As I watched Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly sob before being carted off the field at Bank of America Stadium with a head injury on Thursday night, I was reminded of a recent crying jag of my own.
It’d been a really tough day: I got stuck in a huge traffic jam, then by the time I got to work I realized I’d forgotten my lunch at home; I got a nasty paper cut; and my editor yelled at me in front of some co-workers. So in the middle of the afternoon, I went to the men’s room and let the tears flow freely.
OK, let’s stop right there. None of this is true. I actually haven’t cried since ... hmm, maybe three or four years ago, when I was channel-surfing late at night and happened to catch the last half of “Field of Dreams” on cable?
But what if all that had been true? What if I had cried over a traffic jam and a paper cut and a public flogging? Would you have thought any less of me?
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Someone like Kathy Gyngell certainly would. In an op-ed for the U.K.’s Daily Mail in March, she wrote: “A crying man may prove a friend, but never a lover or protector. The men my sex, young and old, still find attractive are those we feel we can rely on who are strong – and, yes, manly. Call me old-fashioned, but there are few women who find a male cry-baby sexually attractive.”
Luke Kuechly, of course, blows her theory out of the water. Since his tears were shown flowing on Thursday Night Football, Twitter has been awash with sympathetic people. Here’s a small sampling:
▪ “If the sight of Luke Kuechly crying doesn’t hit you in the feelings you have no soul. Get well Luke we love you!” –@jennyweez
▪ “I’m not sure what makes me more emotionally unstable: John Mayers new song or see Luke Kuechly crying on the field” –@USC_Sassy
And from comments on a YouTube clip of the injury:
▪ “Any man who can lay bare his emotions like this is more of a man than the idiots who would call him soft” –Jawz_94
▪ “He is one of the toughest guys in the NFL and if he’s crying you better believe that it must be extremely painful” –Thegoalie1231
Kuechly is something of a rarity in the NFL: hugely popular among fans across broad demographics and widely respected around the NFL by other players.
On top of that, he wasn’t crying over a tough loss, or after getting into a fracas with an opponent: He was knocked into next week while trying to tackle the New Orleans ball carrier. He was badly hurt – some speculate he was perhaps suffering something called the pseudobulbar affect (involuntary crying/laughing as a result of brain injury or neurological disease) – and/or quite possibly overcome with emotion over the prospect of his season coming to a premature end.
Coach Ron Rivera said Friday only that the player is in the concussion protocol.
For all of those reasons, Kuechly has mostly been given a pass by a culture that typically attaches a stigma (or an Internet meme) to any male who cries on the job.
Yet ... alright, this is obviously very unscientific, but in a Twitter poll hosted by @ess_tee_dee, 30 percent of 72 respondents as of Friday afternoon had selected “He is a wimp” when asked “What do you think about @LukeKuechly crying?”
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Where would these 22 super-macho Twitter users draw the line? Devastating physical sports injury: Not OK to cry, got it. How about getting run over by a car, where does that rate? Or the loss of a loved one? Still wimpy to weep?
I mean, I wonder what these guys would think if I let them sound off about the last time I cried.
And I have to come clean on this: It wasn’t “three or four years ago,” while sitting on my couch watching Kevin Costner have a catch with his dad next to a cornfield in Iowa. I slipped that white lie in there to see if you’d just gloss over it, and I’ll bet you did. Guys crying over “Field of Dreams” is a cliche, after all.
No, the last time I cried was actually just a few months ago, when a long, drawn-out argument with my daughter managed to trigger a painful realization (yet another) that she was growing up too quickly, that my once-carefree little girl was now a high schooler facing the constant stresses of high-school life, that her years at home were slipping away. It wasn’t merely wet eyes, but actual tears rolling down my cheeks.
Does that qualify as a good enough reason for a grown man to cry?
I honestly don’t know. I frankly don’t care. And I’d like to think Luke Kuechly feels the same way.