One of the things people enjoy most about sports is that they so often cover the entire spectrum of human emotions. Athletes experience the agony and the ecstasy of competition at the highest level and the full gambit of emotions can be covered in a single evening when everything is on the line. Athletes put their livelihoods on the line every time they step onto the field of competition and tensions can drive these people to the breaking point. Athletes being driven to the point of tears has brought us several of the most memorable moments during the careers of legendary athletes.
The recent Super Bowl was the perfect example of how emotions are so readily on display for the national audience. The stress of playing a game in front of a worldwide audience of millions is immense, but is insignificant in the face of the pressure that athletes place on themselves to succeed. As the Seattle Seahawks drove down the field in pursuit of a winning touchdown, Patriots fans and offensive players sat in stunned silence at what they were witnessing. When Malcolm Butler jumped in front of a rub route to intercept Russell Wilson’s pass, they immediately erupted in jubilation. Seconds later there was a melee involving frustrated Seahawks defensive players driven to anger and the night ended with Pete Carroll crying himself to sleep in his hotel room.
The Super Bowl is just one of many games from the rich history of sports where athletes were driven to the brink. Some of the world’s greatest stages for competition have been the scene for gut wrenching emotion, while other athletes have shed tears while bidding farewell to the game they love. Regardless of the reason, many of these incidents have become iconic moments in the careers of some of the most celebrated athletes. There’s no shame in shedding a few tears and here are the athletes that have shed them in the most memorable fashion.
15 Anderson Silva
After his recent bout with Nick Diaz, as his arm was raised in victory, Anderson Silva fell to the ground consumed by emotion. As the most successful fighter in UFC history shed tears on the canvas, he was helped back to his feet and consoled by his opponent. Silva had recovered from back-to-back losses to Chris Weidman, including a loss that left him with a brutally broken leg in December of 2013. In the aftermath of the fight, both fighters tested positive for banned substances, and Silva will face a lengthy suspension for using drostanolone and methyltestosterone.
14 Tom Brady
Tom Brady has never been shy when it comes to his emotions. He can frequently be seen on the sidelines shouting profanities, but also is not afraid to shed a tear as he has displayed on several occasions during his career. During an ESPN interview, Brady let his emotions take over when he talked about the painful experience of being drafted with the 22nd pick of the 6th round. Brady has also shed tears after a playoff loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, but managed to keep it together while winning the Super Bowl this season.
13 Terrell Owens
In one of the most memorable tirades in NFL history, legendary wide receiver Terrell Owens lashed out at the media for attacking his quarterback Tony Romo. Owens never showed this type of emotion for former quarterbacks, but he stood up for the True American Hero, Tony Romo when the media called for him to be replaced as Cowboys quarterback. T.O. is a man that wears his heart on his sleeve and it shows when he breaks down saying “That’s my teammate, that’s my quarterback.” Throughout his career, Owens was an emotional player and that trend has continued on social media and his ongoing celebrity appearances.
12 Glen Davis
In the middle of a regular season game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin Garnett proved why he is regarded as one of the most intense players in NBA history. When the subs squandered part of a 25 point lead, Garnett chewed out teammate Glen “Big Baby” Davis and left the man blubbering on the bench. Davis was shown on the bench visibly frustrated and crying while taking those emotions out on the towel he had been holding. This video is really emblematic of the intensity that has made Kevin Garnett an NBA legend and the soft nature that has made Big Baby an NBA footnote.
11 Wayne Gretzky
The trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings was an emotional experience for Oilers fans and the entire nation of Canada. As their national treasure took the podium to address the trade, Gretzky broke down in front of the gathered media, after promising Mark Messier he wouldn’t beforehand. Following the trade, Gretzky continued to be “The Great One” putting up stunning statistics, but he never again played for a Stanley Cup winning team. This emotional moment remains one of the most iconic of Gretzky’s legendary career.
10 Tiger Woods
In 2006, Tiger Woods tapped in a short putt to win his 11th career major at The Open Championship in Holyoke, England. As he walked off the green, the emotions took over and Tiger embraced his caddie Steve Williams while his body racked with sobs. Woods has lost his father earlier in the year and it was the first major tournament victory without his Dad present. Tiger then found his wife Elin and the couple embraced while Woods continued to cry uncontrollably. It was a rare vulnerable moment from Tiger Woods at a time when the golf world thought him to be invincible. Unfortunately, these moments would become more frequent as time would go on and his personal life deteriorated.
9 Roger Federer
Throughout his career, Roger Federer has been an athlete that has embraced the emotions of his sport. Tennis can be an extraordinary test between two men that are pushing each other to the breaking point and no player has been more decorated in the game’s history than Federer. At many points of his career, Federer has broken down amid the adulation of his fans after triumphing at tournaments like the Australian Open and Wimbledon. After losing the 2009 Australian Open against rival Rafael Nadal, Federer cried openly while receiving the warm applause from the crowd.
8 Iker Casillas
Iker Casillas is the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Spanish soccer. He has been a stalwart fixture in goal for Real Madrid since 1999. While he had cried during previous Real Madrid triumphs, Casillas’ most iconic moment came following the Spanish National Team’s World Cup triumph in 2010. The captain embraced his teammates with tears streaming down his face, which exemplified how much the victory had meant to him. He repeated this four years later when the team won the tournament again, this time while being interviewed by his girlfriend, Sara Carbonero. He ended the interview by kissing her before stepping away from the cameras to applause of the gathered media.
7 Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh is a basketball player that has gained a reputation around the league for being “soft.” Bosh was an absolutely essential part of the “Big Three” for the Miami Heat teams that dominated the last several seasons of NBA play. Bosh is no stranger to letting his emotions get to him and has cried in several press conferences. Bosh was inconsolable after the Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals in an incident that was lampooned around the internet, despite being an actual moment worthy of shedding tears over.
6 Brett Favre
Brett Favre may now be a punchline for jokes about aborted retirement stints, but when he first stepped away from the game with the Green Bay Packers, many fans believed it was the real deal. After a storied NFL career, Favre had decided to call it quits for the first time, and despite promising himself it would not get emotional, failed to deliver. He managed to keep it together to deliver one of the most heartfelt retirement speeches of all time. However, he would return to quarterback the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings over the next couple seasons, rendering the speech largely irrelevant.
5 Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett was previously mentioned on this list for making teammate Glen Davis cry, but the NBA legend has also let his emotions take over on several occasions during his career. After becoming an NBA champion in his first season with the Boston Celtics, Garnett cemented his place in NBA lore, and was consumed with emotion as he addressed the media on the court after the game. Garnett yelled “Anything is Possible” before sobbing into his hands in one of the most iconic postgame interviews in sports history. It is a chilling moment that displays the passion and intensity that Garnett displayed throughout every game of his career.
4 Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow may not be stepping onto an NFL field any time soon, but he has certainly left an impact at the college level. Tebow led one of the most dominant teams in collegiate history, with the Florida Gators winning two BCS National Championships. However, in 2009, his Gators were beaten by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game and Tebow was left sobbing on the sidelines as the clock ticked down to zero. His senior season may not have ended with a Championship, but Tebow still managed to finish the season by setting BCS records for offensive production.
3 Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson has always worn his heart on his sleeve and that trait was displayed throughout his NBA career. Iverson crying in press conferences was a relatively routine occurrence and the waterworks were opened for teammate Aaron Mckie, when discussing his comeback with the 76ers, and during a Stephen A. Smith interview on Quite Frankly. Iverson was one of the most entertaining players in the league during his tenure and that trait carried over to his off court behavior.
2 Nancy Kerrigan
Perhaps the most iconic image in the history of figure skating is a young Nancy Kerrigan clutching her leg while repeatedly asking “why?” Kerrigan had just been attacked with a police baton by Shane Stant in an attack coordinated by rival Tonya Harding. The attack catapulted her to a national phenomenon and she managed to recover from the attack in time to compete in the Lillehammer Olympics. Despite withdrawing from the U.S. National Championships, Kerrigan was included in the 1994 Olympic team and would go onto win the Silver medal.
1 Michael Jordan
Even the greatest basketball player in the history of the game is not too big to cry and Michael Jordan was never afraid to open up the waterworks. On Father’s Day 1996, Jordan sobbed both on the court and in the locker room while clutching the game ball after his Chicago Bulls triumphed in the NBA Finals. It was Jordan’s first Championship since his father’s murder and he did not hold back emotionally. Jordan was also seen crying while clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy and during his induction speech to the Basketball Hall of Fame.