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Before Roger Federer’s Dartmouth speech, six sports stars who inspired with words

From Dutee Chand to Muhammad Ali, sportspersons have often given life lessons by speaking out

Our Web Desk Published 13.06.24, 03:29 PM

Swiss tennis icon Roger Federer gave a recent stirring speech at the Ivy League Dartmouth College, where he said, “The truth is, whatever game you play in life, sometimes you’re going to lose. A point, a match, a season, a job: it’s a roller coaster, with many ups and downs,” and asserted that “Effortlessness is a myth…Most of the time it’s not about having a gift. It’s about having grit.” 

Before Federer, many sports stars have given moving speeches and interviews that resonate beyond their time and context because of their relevance to the human condition. Here are five such instances.

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The ‘Miracle on Ice’ speech behind Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue

Delivered by coach Herb Brooks to the US men's hockey team before their historic game against the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics, ‘Miracle on Ice’ is one of the most legendary pep talks in sports history. Brooks urged his underdog team to seize the moment and believe in themselves, famously saying, “Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight.” The speech roused the American team, which achieved an electric 4-3 victory against the heavily favoured Soviets. The American film ‘Miracle’ (2004) based on these events is rumoured to have inspired Shah Rukh Khan’s climactic speech in the movie ‘Chak De! India’ (2007).

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Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech

On July 4, 1939, decorated American baseball player Lou Gehrig delivered his moving ‘Luckiest Man’ speech at New York’s Yankee Stadium, marking his retirement from the game after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, which is now often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He began with the famous line, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Gehrig went on to thank his fans, teammates, and family, saying, "I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for,” leaving an enduring legacy of courage and grace.

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Muhammad Ali: Floats like a butterfly, speaks like a tiger 

Renowned for his charisma and outspokenness, boxing legend Muhammad Ali gave many remarkable speeches and interviews which are still embedded in the public memory. In the lead-up to his iconic 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight against George Foreman, he delivered a spirited, rhyming monologue, proclaiming: ‘I've wrestled with alligators, I've tussled with a whale; I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail.’ Ali was an outspoken black-rights advocate. In an interview with the BBC in 1971, he recalled growing up in a world where whiteness ruled: “Everything was white – Santa Claus was white – and everything bad was black; the little ugly duckling was a black duck, and the black cat was bad luck." 

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Jimmy Valvano’s ‘Never Give Up’ speech

American Basketball coach Jimmy Valvano’s heartfelt 1993 ESPY Awards speech marks one of the most celebrated pronouncements in sports history. While battling terminal cancer, he urged everyone to live life fully, saying, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up,” and emphasising the importance of cherishing each day and facing challenges head-on. Valvano's words, "Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul," have left a lasting legacy of hope and perseverance.

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Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell speech

Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar's farewell speech at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on November 16, 2013 was a red letter day for cricket fans in India and beyond. In his emotional address, Tendulkar expressed his gratitude to his supporters, teammates, coaches, and family, encapsulating his journey and love for cricket. He said, “My life, between 22 yards for 24 years, it's hard to believe that this wonderful journey has come to an end” urging the audience to “chase [their] dreams but make sure [they] don’t find shortcuts. Shortcuts never gave anybody anything worth having.” The speech, commemorating Tendulkar’s illustrious career and marking the end of an era in Indian cricket, resonated deeply across the world. 

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Dutee Chand: Going where no Indian sportswoman has

Champion Indian sprinter Dutee Chand has been extraordinarily outspoken on gender issues, something unprecedented in Indian sports. In a moving as-told-to article published in ‘Outlook’ magazine in June last year, Dutee outlined her incredible rise from a small Odisha village and her challenges with hyperandrogenism. She courageously spoke out against discriminatory gender testing, recounting how officials rejected her based on a blood test, claiming she was unwell, and how she became a 'breaking news' story for failing a gender test. Her legal battle advocating for the rights of all women athletes led to the scrapping of discriminatory policies against hyperandrogenism. Now India’s first openly LGBTQ+ athlete, Dutee came out in 2019, publicly stating that she was in a same-sex relationship and that “Love is a human right.” 

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