I grew up knowing that real men castrated sheep, lifted hay bales above their heads, killed deer on dead runs and cried in public. Not just cried, not snivels, not single tears rolling down cheeks, but full-on, red-faced, snot-covered bawling.
Once a month in the Mormon church, members are invited to testify of the things they believe. This usually results in tears--tears from toddlers, mothers and men.
Remember, Mormonism is a religion that leans heavily on patriarchal order. Women aren't allowed to hold the highest positions in the church (or even the second, third or fourth highest positions). And yet, many men still monthly do something that is viewed by most as being unmanly, even womanly. Because I was raised in the heart of Mormondom (in the geographic center of Utah) it took TV years to teach me that crying wasn't manly. The Duke Boys didn't cry. The Fall Guy didn't cry--but the Vietnam Vet who lived down the road did cry.
We've had two criers in sports lately that have received a fair amount of flack: Bubba Watson winning the green jacket and Vernon Davis catching the winning pass to progress the Forty Niners past the Saints in this year's NFL playoffs. I watched the Niner's game with a buddy and when Davis ripped off his helmet and sobbed, we both looked at each other, then looked back to the screen and avoided eye contact. Later we admitted to holding back emotion. Emotion that, for some reason, we were ashamed to have. I talked with another friend who has worked as a butcher, played hockey, and has substantial facial hair about the catch. He said it was beautiful. He watched it over and over again. Then he wrote a poem about it. A poem might be the most appropriate response to this kind of emotion. Maybe we are finally letting men be more than just men, but humans too.
I remember crying twice during church: once when someone hurt my feelings (I ran to the parking lot and hid) and once when I was leaving on my two-year Mormon mission. I hoped that I was crying because of belief, because I had a burning desire to teach people about the truth I was raised with. But, thinking on it now, it probably had more to do with the fact that I was leaving girls, basketball, fishing and everything that was familiar to enter a foreign land to do something I had never done before. I was scared. I cried because I hoped I was going on my mission for the right reasons. I cried because I didn't know what else to do.
Even though I didn't cry often in church, I never thought those that did cry should be ashamed. And I don't think Davis or Watson should be ashamed either. It seems that two camps have cropped up on the Watson/Davis crying issue: those who think the athletes should be praised for showing feeling, and those who poke fun at the athletes for crying. I'm not sure either are right. We should look at these moments for what they are: significant. We should feel grateful that we were able to witness these things with them. When your profession hits extreme highs or lows, you're going to show more emotion than a shrug or a high five. Athletes should be allowed the same, even though they're playing in very public venues. David Foster Wallace wrote about why memoirs written by athletes usually weren't very good. He said because athletes train themselves away from their emotions when it counts, they can't really get back to the emotion when they sit down to write. They step up and sink puts, catch passes, hit balls, then they move on emotionless so they can quickly do it again. Perhaps Davis and Watson will initiate a new kind of athlete.
When I didn't cry in church, I thought I was the one who should be ashamed, not the ones crying. Although I never remember it being explicitly stated, I believed the more someone cried in church the more they believed. And that's all I wanted. I wanted to believe what my ancestors believed. I wanted to know what made my great-grandmothers walk across a continent, what made my great-grandfathers sell successful business and farms and move to a desert. I wanted to shake in those uncontrollable sobs, to have my speech awkwardly punctuated by gasps, but it never came.