When is it permissible for an athlete to cry?
Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 serious episodes of blubbing in professional sports in the past 25 years (I’m sure that Kingdom denizens will add some in the comments section), which is admittedly a pretty small sample from which to generalize, but here goes:
The middle-distance runner Mary Decker in 1984 and Gazza in 1990 both blubbered in response to personal set-backs - Decker because Zola Budd’s clumsiness cost her a shot at a medal and Gazza because a yellow card precluded any further participation in the World Cup. Photos of both generated great sympathy – Gazza’s tears (“Tears of a Clown” in Simon Kuper’s unkind phrase) are even credited with the revival of football in England generally after Heysel, Hillsborough, Bradford, etc. Compare this with the reaction to Wade Boggs’ sobbing in the dugout at the end of the ’86 World Series (verdict = muppet) or Cristiano Ronaldo’s tears at the end of Euro 2004 (verdict = even bigger muppet, though this verdict no doubt has something to do with those ridiculous earrings he was scandalously allowed to wear throughout the tournament).
From this it might be concluded the public believes that individual tragedy makes tears acceptable but the public requires athletes to bear collective loss with stoicism. But I can think of a fifth example which queers this somewhat: the image of Sammy Kuffour lying prostrate and sobbing on the field of the Camp Nou after ManU’s miracle comeback in May 1999, which - I think - usually conjures up sympathy.
Here's my take on this: if an athlete - whether as an individual or a collective - gets beat fair and square, then they are required to suck it up. Tears will be mocked. What Kuffour, Gazza and Decker have in common is the sense that they were robbed. For Decker and Gazza, this robbery took the form of not being able to compete; for Kuffour, it took the form of two insanely late goals which, based on the run of play, were wholly undeserved. Had Bill Buckner's error occurred in game 7 instead of game 6, Boggs' tears would have been seen as being more acceptable.