The Crying Game: Male Athletes Shedding Tears

Ballers and bawlers: Is it ok for men to cry in sports?

Posted Jan 14, 2012

"There's no crying in baseball!" is the familiar lament from Tom Hanks as the beleaguered baseball coach Jimmy Dugan in the movie A League of Their Own.  But is it really true? 

San Francisco Giants first basemen Aubrey Huff cried following the team's 2010 World Series victory.  Plenty of other elite superstar athletes and coaches have been known to shed tears in both victory and defeat.  Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods both broke down in sobs after their first title championship wins following their fathers' deaths.  While nothing compared to the flood of sadness he left behind in Cleveland, Lebron James let the tears flow after losing the last NBA finals.  Golf champion Steve Stricker is a regular crier.  And you better believe that Tim Tebow rolled tears on the sidelines after losing the 2009 SEC Championship to Alabama.

Is it ok for men to cry over sports? 

In an article published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity, researchers at Indiana University investigated this question with a sample of 150 male college football players.  The players were each given a fictional scenario about a senior college football named Jack starting in his team's championship game. (See Jack run.  See Jack throw.)  Each player was given one scenario which varied according to two aspects: Jack's team either won or lost the game, and Jack's response to the win or loss was to either "tear up" or start "sobbing".

Players saw Jack's tearing up as appropriate, typical, and even something they themselves might do.  However, the players typically drew the line at sobbing regardless of a win or loss.  In an interesting twist, the researchers examined how a player's own self-esteem and adherence to traditional beliefs about masculine emotional control affected his perception of fictional Jack's reaction.  Players who were less invested in a supposedly masculine need to be emotionally constrained and who saw Jack's crying as appropriate also reported higher self-esteem.  In contrast, those with lower self-esteem thought Jack's crying was inappropriate even though they were more likely to believe they would themselves cry in similar circumstances.

 

The take-home messages?  First, male athletes draw a difference between expressing emotion (even crying) and emotionally losing control (no matter what you feel about wrestling).  Although not tested by the researchers, I imagine most athletes would also view sobbing as an appropriate and typical response in sports in light of personal tragedy or exceptional adversity.  Second, real and self-confident men are ok with crying and the ones who condemn it are more likely to be lashing out from some inner insecurity.  As New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan (who once joked that Kleenex was his new team sponsor) said about shedding tears over his sport: "I'm man enough to be me."

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Update:  San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis just made headlines for his tears of joy following last night's game-winning touchdown catch.

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Citation: Men's tears: Football players' evaluations of crying behavior.  Wong, Y. Joel; Steinfeldt, Jesse A.; LaFollette, Julie R.; Tsao, Shu-Ching.  Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Vol 12(4), Oct 2011, 297-310. doi: 10.1037/a0020576

 

By Jared DeFife, Ph.D.
© January 14, 2012 (original article link: http://tinyurl.com/73s7bue)
For information about research, speaking, and Atlanta-based psychotherapy practice, visit www.jareddefife.com