Or remember Pete Sampras playing an epic five-setter with Jim Courier just after hearing that his coach, Tim Gullikson, had suffered what appeared to be his third stroke within three months, on his way to dying of brain cancer. Deep in the match, a spectator yells out, "Win it for your coach, Pete," and Sampras, suffering through severely blistered feet, bursts into tears.
The crucial element of this kind of story is that the off-the-field tragedy does not diminish the importance of the game (as you would expect, logically, that it might). It makes the athlete take his task even more seriously. Sampras goes on to win the match. (Of course.)
In that epic Courier-Sampras match, when Sampras breaks down in tears, Courier says to him: "You all right, Peter? We can do this tomorrow, you know." Here we have part of the reason why Sampras was a better tennis player than Courier: Sampras is the kind of person who could block out the real world (the impending death of his coach) in the service of winning another tennis match. Courier couldn't. He saw someone suffering and wanted to set tennis aside. But if Courier wasn't the better player, for his decency he is certainly the better human being, isn't he?Do we like Sampras or Brett Favre because they care less about people than winning?