By Edward Ngai
The new Masters champion, the 33-year-old self-taught golfer with the hot pink driver, is truly a maverick in a staid sport. And so when he dropped in his putt to seal the win, there was no emphatic arm pump, no Tiger-esque yelling. Instead, he broke down in tears, hugging his caddie, his mom, his colleagues, his caddie again, his mom again, all while sobbing like a baby.
Cue the armchair pundits, who piled on mercilessly. “Kudos to Bubba for winning, but what is with all the blubbering?” wrote Bart Pfankuch of the Herald Tribune. Kathy Lee Griffin of the Today show qualified her support of Watson by saying that men who cry too much should “go home to mommy.”
This is hardly a new phenomenon. For a long time, men crying in public was considered a great weakness. In the 1972 presidential campaign, Democratic frontrunner Ed Muskie was forced to defend the integrity of his wife in what is referred to as the “crying speech.” Having to stop three times and wipe his face, his tears were splashed on front pages across the country. Voters decided they didn’t like this display of emotion from their would-be commander-in-chief, and so defected to support Muskie’s rival, George McGovern. Afterwards, Muskie would assert that his “tears” were in fact melting snowflakes; regardless, his display of emotion rebuffed what was a sure march to the presidential nomination.
Yet Mr. Muskie was hardly the only man to have shed his tears in public.
Walter Cronkite, whose booming voice made him a pillar of strength and integrity in living rooms across the country, teared up on the air in 1963 when reporting on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “I choked up, I really had a little trouble,” he would recall. “Fortunately, I grabbed hold before really crying.”
Andre Agassi, after having played his last game in the 2006 U.S. Open, stood at midcourt in tears, his hand clasped over his mouth, as fans gave him a five-minute standing ovation.
And Ray Bourque, one of the toughest players to play a sport synonymous with grit and toughness — ice hockey — cried freely after winning the Stanley Cup in his very last game as a pro. After making the playoffs 19 times, he finally won his only Cup with Colorado; the image of him holding Lord Stanley’s trophy above his head at long last, tears streaming down his face, is still an image burned into the consciousness of the hockey faithful from sea to sea.
This is simply a very abridged compilation of the manly men who have been overcome with emotion. Indeed, the list grows much longer, especially in our time, where crying’s salty stigma seems to burn less.
Yes, the criers still get mocked — for example, the Speaker-dubbed-Weeper of the House, John Boehner. Perhaps due to his very public repeated endorsements of Kleenex, two years after his ascension to the highest seat in Congress, he is still the butt of SNL jokes.
Yet it would also be a great shame to let tears define our role models. Sure, there was once a time when sobs meant weakness and emotional instability. There was once a time where crying was unbecoming of a man, and certainly unbecoming of a champion.
But it should be abundantly clear that this is not the case. The most powerful men in the world — from George Washington to the Honorable Weeper — have cried in public. The toughest men in the world have cried in public. The fact of the matter is, we all cry, and doing so in the presence of others simply shows them how you feel.
Is that really so bad?
So go on, Bubba, cry it out. After all, you’ve got a mighty plush green sleeve to soak up the tears.
Ray Bourque and the Avs may have won it all in 2001, but Ed is sure it’ll be the Canucks in 2012. Cry over playoff heartbreak with Ed at edngai “at” stanford “dot” edu.