The most inspiring sports moments of 2021

A very special thank you

Roughly 7.500 vaccinated health care workers to be the league's honored guests at Super Bowl LV in Tampa

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on just about every aspect of everyday living. It's safe to say that professional, respectable health care workers, particularly those on the front line of the pandemic, have been the true heroes amid it all.

So, it was a special and appropriate moment when the NFL invited roughly 7.500 vaccinated health care workers to be the league's honored guests at Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7.

It was also an extremely positive way to begin a new year.

Watch Allyson run

Speaking of athletes defying age, Olympian Allyson Felix should be an inspiration to anybody over the age of 35.

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Now 36, Felix, who also gave birth just three years ago, closes out 2021 as the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history with 11 medals after she took home a bronze in 400 meters and gold with the United States' 4x400-meter relay squad at the Tokyo Summer Games.

Felix is also the most decorated American track and field athlete -- man or woman -- in Olympic history.

Two is better than one

Each cleared the highest rung during the Olympic high jump competition this summer in Toyko.

Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Then there's the story of Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.

Each cleared the highest rung during the Olympic high jump competition this summer in Toyko.

But, instead of continuing their attempt to successfully complete that tiebreaking jump, both asked Olympic officials to share the gold medal.

Their request was granted, joy proved to win the day and the spirit of competition and sportsmanship still existed amid these crazy times around the world.

Real-life "Field of Dreams"

It was a celebration of baseball, companionship, and hope.

Photo: Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes it's the simple things that provide comfort during trying and uncertain times -- like, say, a global health pandemic.

So, when the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees finally got together to play a game at the famed Field of Dreams field in Dyersville, Iowa on Aug. 12, innocence was restored for even a few hours.

What once was good can be so again, perhaps, and not just on the ball field.

And Tim Anderson's two-run walk-off homer into the right-field corn was truly an ending made for Hollywood.

Fitting farewell

It's impossible to know how many young athletes, spanning all sports that famed United States Women's National Team member Carli Lloyd.

Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports

On Oct. 26, the 38-year-old Lloyd played her final game for the USWNT, in a 6-0 friendly rout of South Korea.

And, the reception she received that night in Minnesota was truly special, and a testament to one of the most important, influential, and inspiring female athletes of all time who just happened to record 134 goals through 316 international appearances.

Osaka brings mental health to the masses

The subject of mental health in sports was brought to the forefront in 2021 like no other year in recent history.

Photo: Susan Mullane/USA TODAY Sports

Naomi Osaka's decision not to meet media obligations due to mental health issues at the '21 French Open, then ultimately pulling out of the tournament altogether, sent shock waves throughout the sports world.

It can be argued that was the first time mental health was seriously discussed on the international sports stage, and Osaka was lauded for her courage to be transparent.

The conversation, however, had just begun.

Biles' Olympic bounce back

Inspiration is taken to another level.

When Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic gymnastics all-around competition at this summer's Tokyo Games because she was "(feeling) the weight of the world on (her) shoulders," a new reality had set in.

Regardless of the thinking on Biles' situation, and there are plenty still willing to bash her Olympic decision, mental health issues were likely going to be as common as knee injuries or arm soreness going forward.

Because, when one of the most successful and beloved athletes in the world has trouble handling the pressure, then is able to find even the slightest way through with success, inspiration is taken to another level.

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