Open the floodgates: Everybody's shedding a tear
When rookie defensive tackle Manuel Wright broke down in tears the other day after rookie Dolphins head coach Nick Saban opened a can of I'm-In-Charge-Here Verbal Whupass on him for -- oh, I don't know, does anybody really care what it was about? -- Wright might have felt isolated and alone, a very big man on a very small island. He needn't.
In fact, Wright just joined one of the fastest-growing clubs in America. You want to collect all the folks who cry in sports lately, you'll need a bigger room.
It's a weepy sports nation out there right now. You can't spit without hitting a teardrop. The crying game is in full jag.
And with induction weekends bearing down upon us, consider this your formal warning: You are about to be dropped into a scene from "The Natural," with tears at every turn.
Baseball welcomes its newest Hall of Fame members this weekend, with the Pro Football Hall of Fame waiting in the wings a weekend hence. Ryne Sandberg is going in. Dan Marino is going in. Steve Young is going in. Tissues all around.
Crying in sports used to be reserved either for epic winning or epic losing, and if you keep score on this kind of thing, you'll find that such is still the most popular teardrop destination. Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, a certified tough guy, stood crying before reporters after the Steelers got knocked out of the NFL playoffs by the Patriots. Roger Federer let tears stream down his face after taking Wimbledon. Very natural.
Increasingly, though, even the sports community has come to understand the basic therapeutic value of a good cry no matter the specifics. It's an emotional release that is taking its rightful place alongside the traditional sports outlets: water-cooler smashing, table-dumping, general 'roid raging and, at the far end of the spectrum, Bill Romanowski.
Girls and women cry, but, really, so do boys and men. Ain't no thing. Morgan Pressel is 17, and so the world isn't going to make a big deal (and why should it?) of the fact that Pressel broke down after blowing her chance at perhaps forcing a playoff at the Women's U.S. Open golf tournament -- as an amateur.
At the same time, you can apparently be George Steinbrenner these days and pull a Vermeil anytime you feel like it, with imperial immunity. Steinbrenner, famous over the years for his callous public indifference to anything that did not involve (a) winning or (b) making damn sure somebody else didn't win, has suddenly become a misty-eyed dreamer who can be emotionally destroyed, as he was last year, by the sound of the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures shouting, "Thank you, George!" during a TV interview.
Good heavens, can this be happening? Steinbrenner cried again when the Yankees got a regular-season win over the Red Sox. He cried recounting a touching phone conversation he had with former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens. He wobbled and wavered several times during a YES network interview this year.
If the Boss can't shut off the faucets, can anybody else really be expected to?
Manuel Wright won't be the last rookie in an NFL camp this summer to shed a tear (along with a few dozen pounds). He might be the only one who has the moment captured on video, thus becoming the unwitting symbol of a nation of elite sports athletes who are really in touch with their feelings. But take it from any veteran pro: Guys cry all the time. It's just not widely reported.
The sight of a premier athlete breaking down can either be shocking or comforting -- or, sometimes, both. The people who followed Emmitt Smith through a Hall of Fame career at running back might not have been prepared for Smith to fall apart completely while announcing his foregone-conclusion retirement last January, but it was still such a riveting, human moment. And Terrell Owens, for all that bluster and superego and Jesus-referencing, is also the guy who burst into tears upon catching the touchdown pass that hailed his arrival as a star in the league, that memorable game-winner from Steve Young as the 49ers beat the Packers in a January 1999 playoff game.
Owens was absolutely shattered by the magnitude of the moment, and you just can't make that stuff up. I refer you to the godmother of crying in sports, Jana Novotna -- who famously dropped her head onto the shoulder of the duchess of Kent after choking away the 1993 Wimbledon women's singles championship -- and ask: Despite her mostly brilliant career, would you remember Novotna for anything else?
If he's lucky, Manuel Wright's Little Nicky moment won't be the only one that anyone ever remembers about him in pro sports. If it is, though, it won't be the worst thing that could ever happen to him.
Beyond the first wave of taunting, beer-battered knuckleheads, Wright will have connected with the growing number of people in and around sports who aren't afraid to let it fly, to say nothing of let it cry. Know this, rookie: You are not alone.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at email@example.com.
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