How a Rangers Hockey Game Made Me Cry – New York’s Steven McDonald

Madison Square Garden, April 9th, 2017. I am wearing my fiancé’s too-big Rangers jersey, standing next to a father and son in Penguins jerseys. The game has not started yet, but we are all on our feet, Penguins fans included. We are honoring the late NYPD officer Steven McDonald. Tears force their way past my eyelashes as I let myself feel the emotion that ripples from the ice all the way up to our seats in section 208.

Steven’s wife sheds her own tears, as his son in dress blues speaks on behalf of his late father. Steven’s absence is felt by long-time Rangers fans. The presentation of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award to player Mats Zuccarello holds extra meaning this evening.

Officer Steven McDonald is famous for a legacy we don’t often hear about – forgiveness of the unforgivable. In 1986, he was shot on duty and paralyzed for life. Shortly after, his son Conor was born. Despite the life-altering devastation that occurred from what should have been a normal night on the job, Officer McDonald decided to forgive the teen who shot him. Over time, he formed a friendship with his attacker.

Since then, as a super-fan of the New York Rangers, he has attended games in a special way – able to share words of encouragement with the team, and to present the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. He had become a symbol of love, dedication, and bravery for every Ranger’s fan. He added an element of humanity unparalleled by the game itself. When he passed away earlier this year, the Rangers Nation mourned.

I share this story because being there last night was a lesson in community and sheer humanness. Hockey is a blast to watch by its own merit, and being a sports fan brings people together on its own. But the New York Rangers took it a step further by celebrating a local member of their community who was very much worth celebrating. By choosing to honor Steven McDonald in life and death, the Rangers share several important messages:

The fans make the team

Steven McDonald created more of the New York sensibility of the Rangers brand than any special edition jersey could have. He represents the soul of the fans.

Heroes aren’t hockey players – they are ordinary people with extraordinary hearts

Sports fans have a tendency to idolize the players. It was powerful to watch  Zuccarrello, a brilliant player, wrap Patti McDonald in a bear hug, right after Conor referred to him as a great friend. At that moment, they were no longer ‘celebrities.’ They were regular people who cried over the loss of a great man, while celebrating his life. The video that played on the big screens in the Garden showed that the Rangers themselves looked at McDonald with real admiration.

New York is about stories of incredibly humanity

The stereotype, not completely unwarranted, that New Yorkers are unfriendly and in a hurry might seem true at surface level. But as I sang along to the national anthem last night, sung also by a police officer, I felt waves of pride in my identity as an American and a New Yorker. It was a New York cop who chose to forgive someone who nearly killed him. It was a New York cop who gave a person a second chance, despite major differences between them. New York is filled with all kinds, but New Yorkers pick themselves up after disaster with hearts full of love.

No, you’re the one crying. Sheesh.

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