When Famous Sports Stars Cry

“I can cry like Roger. It’s just a shame I can’t play like him,” declared after the 2010 Australian Open. Thankfully, since then he proved that he really could.

Overcome with the emotion of getting so close, but ending up so far from his dream, the always stoic Scotsman turned the Wimbledon men’s final into a crying game when he let his emotions overflow causing many of his audience to join him in his tears.

Another tennis-playing weepy, Roger Federer, said about Murray’s tearful performance: “I think he won over a lot of people and the hearts of the fans because of the emotions he showed in Australia and now again here. It does show as well that we are human”.

Roger Federer Crying at the Australian Open

Of course Federer is known as something of a serial crier himself. He generated almost enough tears to solve Melbourne’s water problems when he opened his floodgates after losing the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal. Unable to help himself he wept uncontrollably through nearly all of the post-match presentation ceremony.

“God, this is killing me,” he told the crowd. Maybe he should have said: “drowning me.”

It’s all a far cry from the stoic acceptance of ice-cold Swedes like Bjorn Borg and poses the question – ‘To cry or not to cry?’. Increasingly sportsmen seem to cry at the drop of a hat, ball, or point and the stiff upper lip approach which once prevailed seems to be a thing of the past.

Of course Murray and Federer aren’t the first sportsmen to cry in defeat. Perhaps the fact that every event is now televised has something to do with it.

Television zoom allows people to see up close and in detail how a person is feeling, and might even be cynically used by some to manipulate public opinion and emotion. So should sportsmen cry or should they hold back the tears and battle on?

Cricketers Shedding A Tear

There was a time when it would have been unacceptable for any sportsman to cry in public. When, Kim Hughes, Australia’s cricket captain resigned in 1984, his tearful resignation was big news.

It was obvious that Hughes was welling up as he tried to read his statement. Rather than break-down, he walked away from the cameras, leaving his team manager to read it out on his behalf.

Twenty-four years later and another national cricket captain broke down in much the same way. When England captain, Michael Vaughan, told the world that he was resigning his captaincy, his tears were reported across the globe.

Vaughan emotionally cited ‘family reasons’ for his resignation saying: “We live in a country where we can all become a bit cynical and I felt myself getting that way.”

Sports Stars Breaking Down

Tears in sport are big news and isn’t an accident that some of the strongest sports images show men and women in tears.

Remember John Terry, one of football’s hard men, breaking down after missing his penalty in Moscow and costing Chelsea the European Cup?

Or when Jana Novotna, being consoled by the Duchess of Kent after losing the Wimbledon final in 1993?

How about Ben Curtis, blubbering into the microphone after winning the Open at Sandwich in 2003?

But perhaps the most iconic sporting tears image of them all – a young Paul Gascoigne, tears streaming down his face, shamelessly weeping at the 1990 World Cup.

“I think it was Gascoigne who really opened the way for other men to cry,” said Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University.

“We know that men don’t express their feelings as well as women. I think for men to cry in competitive, aggressive, macho sports like football is quite healthy. It’s an expression of emotion and people aren’t ashamed of doing it anymore.”

Gazza’s Best Crying Moments

Mind you, we all weep for different reasons and when Oliver McCall started crying in the boxing ring during his fight against Lennox Lewis in 1994 they were the tears of a man in the middle of a mental breakdown.

With the knowledge of hindsight, who can be sure that Gazza’s famous outburst may not have been the warning signs of problems yet to come to the surface?

Even so, Cooper believes that crying in sport is healthy and a recent study suggests that Gascoigne’s tears may have given him a mental edge.

According to research by psychologist Jesse Steinfeldt Ph.D., of Indiana University, sportsmen who can more easily display their emotions are also more successful.

Steinfeldt says: “Overall, college football players who strive to be stronger and are emotionally expressive are more likely to have a mental edge on and off the field.”

So if crying on the sports-field is okay, may even help you to win potentially, just when is it okay?

When Is It Ok To Cry On The Field?

I’m sure these simple rules will remind you of a few well-known sportsmen:

  • Firstly, only sincere tears are acceptable, nothing ruins a sportsman’s reputation as quickly as artificial or excessive emotion – nobody wants to be called a cry-baby or be accused of crying wolf.
  • Crying after a real injury with real pain is totally acceptable. But crying after throwing oneself to the floor after a perfectly reasonable tackle isn’t.
  • Crying after losing is usually acceptable these days. However, crying is unacceptable if the sportsman is part of a team and responsible for the loss – this could be called self-pity.
  • Sportsmen should never cry before the game is over; this could be interpreted as giving up or fear.
  • Crying because you have finished second is both petulant and the watermark of a bad loser.
  • Crying when you don’t get your own way is never allowed and is the least respected form or sports crying.
  • Sobbing in victory is only allowed if the sportsperson plays through injury or comes back from the brink to win; anything else simply wouldn’t be cricket.

So, whether you approve of the crying game or not, it looks like it’s here to stay. With every emotion reported on, every tear a photo opportunity, how can we ever return to the days when sports men and women took it on the chin with a smile?

As Forbes magazine writer Nick Morgan observed recently: “On reality television, tears are as common as pennies. In fact, crying is not only ubiquitous but mandatory. When you pay to play, tears are currency. The question is no longer whether to cry but rather, ‘What kind of crying will maximize camera time?”

And what is a sport if not the ultimate in reality television?




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