I'm an Abby Wambach fan.
You should be, too.
Not because of her phenomenal play these past few weeks in the Women's World Cup. Not because of her dramatic flair with all those amazing headers. Not even because of her warrior mentality playing with an Achilles injury that many believe is more severe than she's let on.
No, you should love her because of her sportsmanship.
In the moments after Team USA suffered heartbreak like never before, Wambach was the model of grace and class.
A sports world that is often void of common decency should take notice.
Millions around the world watched the scene unfold. Tied after 120 minutes, the United States and Japan went to penalty kicks. The Americans failed to convert their first three, and the Japanese claimed the cup on their fourth kick.
The stunned Americans huddled at midfield as the Japanese celebrated.
But as soon as the U.S. broke, Wambach walked toward the Japanese players. She shook hands. She patted backs. She offered congratulations. She was the only American player to do so in those moments immediately following the game, her white jersey standing in stark contrast to Japan's blue.
It wasn't the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing.
No one felt worse about the U.S. loss than Wambach. The 31-year-old has been the emotional leader for Team USA for nearly a decade. She gives her everything. She invests her heart. She sacrifices her body.
Last year when the U.S. was attempting to qualify for the Women's World Cup in a match against Mexico, she gashed her head in a midair collision. She was bleeding profusely, but right there on the field, a trainer stapled up the injury.
Wambach is all in.
Before Sunday's final, she was candid about her desire to win. She had played in the Women's World Cup two other times and had yet to loft the cup. She said she was tired of being forced to watch another team do that.
Imagine, then, the disappointment of being so close to victory — the Americans squandered leads late in regulation and late in extra time to force penalty kicks — and having to watch Japan celebrate.
There was no anesthesia for that pain either.
But there Wambach was, congratulating the Japanese, showing the class that many other world-class athletes have lacked in the aftermath of their greatest disappointment. LeBron James stormed off the court in his last game as a Cleveland Cavalier. Peyton Manning left the field without shaking anyone's hand after Indianapolis lost to New Orleans in the Super Bowl. Dirk Nowitzki even added a new chapter to the postgame storm off, running off the court after winning the NBA Finals earlier this year.
If you want to see some athletes at top speed, wait until the end of a big game. They bolt for the locker room so quickly that you'd swear they were being timed.
Heck, one of Wambach's own teammates was less than gracious after the game Sunday. U.S. goalie Hope Solo made a beeline to the stands after the loss. She was seen hugging either family or friends as her teammates huddled on the field.
I understand that all of these athletes are disappointed — or in the Dirk Devil's case, overcome by emotion — but there's no way that their emotions were any greater than Wambach's on Sunday.
Athletes and coaches everywhere should take a cue from her. You can be super competitive, you can be unabashedly passionate, and you can still have great sportsmanship.
That's why I'm a fan of Abby Wambach.
It's why everyone should be.