Tuesday, October 23, 2007


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.


Blogger roswitha said...

That legendary iceman Franco Baresi in USA '94. Not robbed, but certainly a moment of personal crisis. You'd expect someone on the losing side of a tense, ugly final to break down, but for that man to be Baresi was in itself a shock to most Italians - I think I remember hearing Paolo Maldini say something to that effect a couple of years ago.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Fred Dynamite said...

Seeing as you invoked sports other than football a la Wade Boggs - conjuring up Tom Hanks' "There's no crying in baseball!!" from "A League of Their Own," two Edmonton Oiler examples spring to mind.

Wayne Gretzky's famous "I told Mess I wouldn't cry" at the press conference announcing his trade to the LA Kings was a watershed (no pun intended) moment in Oil country. We'd be downright pissed if he didn't cry. Now there's freeway named after the man.

Steve Smith's tears after scoring on his own goal to give Calgary game 7 in the 1986 Stanley Cup semi-finals was also justified.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

See, now the Steve Smith case I think backs my point. It was a fluke. No one begrudged him the sniffle.

Baresi is more of a challenge to fit into my framework. But penalties are a kind of fluke, aren't they?

Gretzky's tears were at a press conference and hence outside the sporting arena. I banish them from the discussion.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Whereas I have real issues with Messier's waterworks at Madison Square Garden.

But then I have all kinds of issues with the Rangers.

Didn't Bourke shed a tear when Sakic handed him the Cup? I shed a lot more than one.

I would posit that genuine tears of joy are always justified.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Fred Dynamite said...

Ryan Smyth cried last night, on the ice, following a tribute marking his first return back to Edmonton. Does crying during a pre-game ceremony count?

It was painful to watch - therefore unjustified.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Post-game joy tears, as Urs says, is acceptable, but pre-game?

Banished to muppet-dom!

12:58 PM  

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