Butler, after making its second-straight trip to the championship game, made its rise from national anonymity to America’s underdog from a mysterious location. Even after losing last Monday to UConn, its accomplishments remain nothing short of extraordinary.
Their story is that of coach Brad Stevens, who extracted every ounce of talent from his players (the very kids that the name-brand schools overlooked), not once but two years in a row in arguably the toughest sport to win a title. Strength of character is often thrown around as the truest test of a team’s greatness, and, even in defeat, the Bulldogs showed how strong they are.
But the image forever to be juxtaposed against this team of overachievers is a few 20-somethings crying as UConn’s confetti fell on their heads. While there weren’t any cameras in the Butler locker room, it isn’t a stretch to guess the crying continued in private among their peers.
Crying after a loss isn’t groundbreaking. Butler was just the 67th case of it happening in the tournament, and a few tears of joy were probably shed by the champion Huskies themselves. But this little emotion, the complete breakdown of one’s ability to hold it in any longer, is almost always followed by a feeling of embarrassment- even shame.
As fans, we want our athletes to be honest, and what is more honest than the act of crying? It’s the one revealing act that can almost always be trusted, yet the stigma around it crushes almost all qualifications for the “heinous” act. We want the athletes we idolize to be “better” than that. These are grown men in our eyes and they should act accordingly.
Maybe it’s because we expect athletes to perform as cold, heartless Terminators whose sole purpose is to put or prevent a ball from going in a basket. If all you want from them is to perform, go back to the locker room and say “both teams played hard” at their press conference, that’s fine. But think back to the times when sports have made you miserable for days on end and imagine what having an actual role in those outcomes would have drawn out of you.
Or maybe we want athletes to express themselves during their weakest moments in the strongest and most poised way possible. Their weakest moment is seen as just that- a weakness- and it upsets our nuance-less vision of what it is to be a symbol of masculinity.
For some, sports serve as a showcase of masculinity and all of its traits. So when we imagine the characteristic parallels between Clint Eastwood and Jim Brown, the image of either crying about anything undoes the cartoonish paradigm we created. We punish those who dare go against it, for there is no room for perceived weakness even at what very well may be their most vulnerable moment.
But here’s the thing: Jim Brown, whose 50-year-old highlights still amaze this media-saturated generation, cried. A lot. Even at 75 years old, he’s the epitome of what it means to be a man. And if it’s good enough for Jim Brown, it’s good enough for you, me or Butler.
So what we’re left with is watching our modern-day gladiators show honest emotion, and we respond by calling them babies who aren’t mature enough to handle disappointment. But being a man is far more than acting somber when in fact you feel heartbreak. Honing up to that crushing sense of loss is admirable. Hiding behind a veil of brashness isn’t manliness, it’s cowardice.
Austen Gregerson is a junior majoring in print journalism and political science. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.