This Thanksgiving, Bill Littlefield gives thanks for leaping catches to rob home runs, like this one by Baltimore’s Adam Jones in 2009. (Gail Burton/AP)

No pro sports league has been immune to lockouts, but somehow the ones that hockey fans have had to endure have always seemed dumber and more self-destructive. Maybe it seems that way because NHL fans are the most recent victims of lost games. Anyway, I guess we can be thankful that Gary Bettman is the commissioner of only one league.

As recently as a couple of years ago, the NFL was employing doctors who maintained that getting hit in the head a lot and suffering multiple concussions did not necessarily predispose one to dementia, depression, failing memory, or other conditions associated with brain damage. Where did the league find those MD’s? These days, the NFL is acknowledging that head and brain injuries can have ruinous consequences and should be taken at least as seriously as sprained ankles and twisted knees. When a player stumbles to the wrong sideline after being hit in the head, nobody dismisses his disorientation by saying, “Wow, that guy got his bell rung.” Or at least nobody says that into a microphone. We can be grateful for that.

Sports at the highest level is not big business; it is enormous business, and like all enormous businesses, sports features greed, corruption, price-fixing, and disappointed customers. Unlike other enormous businesses, or at least unlike some of them, sports also features fallen heroes about whom everybody should have been smarter.

But sports also gives us individuals and teams that remind us of the astonishing feats of which the most athletically gifted among us are capable when talent, intense practice and luck combine to create moments that we are delighted and perhaps surprised to recognize as art. The best of these athletes are embodiments of a fragile, ephemeral excellence more precious for how fragile and ephemeral it is. These athletes are images of grace in a clumsy world.

We all find our own such images in the games we’ve chosen to value. I’m thankful for the flying and bouncing and balancing gymnasts I had the opportunity to watch in London, and for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and for every outfielder who has timed his run and his leap exquisitely enough to return to the field a ball that had appeared to disappear over the top of a wall. What that outfielder does, no matter which team’s shirt he is wearing, is bring back something that was gone. That’s not something that happens outside the arena, except in dreams, but there are moments in our games when it does happen, and it’s terrific, and we can be thankful for that.