Amid last week’s shootings in Newtown, Conn., several sports figures have lent a helping hand to the victims of the tragedy. In N.Y., Pat Leonard notes Giants WR Victor Cruz on Tuesday “spent his day off visiting the family and friends” of 6-year-old Jack Pinto killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Cruz got “choked up when asked about what it meant that little Jack had been buried on Monday wearing the No. 80 jersey of his favorite Giants player.” Cruz said, “You don’t know whether to say thank you, you don’t know whether to say you appreciate it. It just, it leaves you kind of blank. But I’m definitely honored by it. I’m definitely humbled by it. And it’s absolutely unfortunate, but it’s a humbling experience for me” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/20). Cruz added, "It’s just a humbling experience just to have someone be such a fan and care about you that much and be that inspired by what you do on the field that they want to rest their son in your jersey.” Cruz said for the other kids that were there, “I tried to sign as much as I can and I even went inside and played a little ‘Madden’ with them as well." Cruz: "That was some good stuff just to get their minds off it a little bit” ("NFL 32," ESPN2, 12/19). Cruz said on Saturday night he reached out to his fiancée, who handles his publicity. He said, "I was like, ‘We’ve got to find this family. We’ve got to find these people and figure out the best way we could get to do something for them.’ So we spoke to the family. She found them in 20 minute; she called me, we called them on three-way. It was an emotional conversation." Cruz wrote Jack's name on the cleats and gloves he wore in Sunday's game against the Falcons, and he said, "I told them I would honor them by putting Jack Pinto's name on my cleats and on my gloves and I would give them the cleats and the gloves when the time was right” ("Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," NBC, 12/19).
OTHER ATHLETES REACHING OUT: In Nashville, Jim Wyatt notes Titans RB Chris Johnson “gained a friend for life in 11-year-old Jack McDonnell, who lost his younger sister, Grace, in the tragedy.” Johnson on Tuesday “spoke with the McDonnell family to express his condolences.” Johnson yesterday said, “It’s a situation where I just want to lift the family up, or lift anyone up who is going through such a tough time” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 12/20). In N.Y., Daniel Beekman notes the mother of slain teacher Victoria Soto “received a surprise phone call Wednesday from one of her courageous daughter’s heroes: Yankee Derek Jeter.” Her nephew James Wiltsie last night said, “Vicki loved the Yankees -- that was part of her eulogy. No one in the family reached out, so (Jeter) must have heard about it and ... reached out.” Wiltsie did not give details “of the conversation but did say it was uplifting” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/20).
ATHLETES MAKING STATEMENTS: In Oklahoma City, Jenni Carlson notes athletes have “turned their shoes or their gloves or their helmets into moving memorials.” Thunder F Kevin Durant wrote “NEWTOWN, CT” on the shoes he wore for the team’s game last Friday, “only hours after the school shooting.” The Heat wrote “Praying for families in CT” and “RIP to families in CT” on their shoes Saturday. The Patriots wore “black-ribbon logos on their helmets Sunday,” while both the NFL Giants and Jets teams “wore S.H.E.S. decals on their helmets.” Texans DE J.J. Watt “wrote the town's name on both of his game shoes Sunday.” Newtown, Conn. high school boy’s basketball coach Tim Tallcouch said, “The way they have shown their support in the last few days is fabulous. Even if their actions for a short time help ease the pain, it's worth it” (OKLAHOMAN, 12/20).
TALKING POINTS: Winthrop men's basketball coach Pat Kelsey following Tuesday's loss to Ohio State made an impassioned speech about the Newtown shootings, which came on the heels of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim touching on gun control after winning his 900th game Monday. CBS' Doug Gottlieb said: “Maybe, just maybe, we’ve entered an era where instead of people shouting at coaches to stick to basketball and hosts to stick to sports, we can now have an honest and frank conversation about fixing our country together” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 12/19).