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Your Crying Guys 5 min read

Your Crying Guys

On men and crying.

By Cary Littlejohn

Tom Hanks' Jimmy Dugan made famous a simple mantra: There's no crying in baseball.

But what about football?

That's essentially the premise of a recent episode of Pablo Torre Finds Out, where Pablo and Dave Fleming try to uncover the science behind the tears of Caleb Williams, projected No. 1 draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Crying Game: A Scientific Voyage into the Tear Ducts of Caleb Williams and Bill Belichick - Pablo Torre Finds Out
Award-winning journalist/gasbag Pablo Torre is finally free to f*** around. Follow him down the rabbit hole as he seeks big answers to urgent questions. Each week will entail in-depth reporting, plus heady conversation on the juiciest stories in sports and news — all with a cast of curious friends, including Dan Le Batard (aka Pablo’s boss). Watch and listen to new episodes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday — and follow us on every conceivable platform (YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Facebook) at @PabloTorreFindsOut ... and on whatever Twitter is now at @PabloFindsOut ... and sign up for Pablo’s free (!!!) newsletter at WWW.PABLO.SHOW

A video of Williams climbing into the stands to cry in the arms of his mother after a loss went viral, and the general consensus was as unkind as it was unsurprising. Football players, our most manly men, don't cry, seemed to be the law of the land.

This podcast, however, goes to some surprising places when it comes to men's overt show of emotions. At times, it might feel a bit icky, as many of the selected audio clips are harsh and outright hateful. The words of NFL scouts about their assessment of Williams based on his crying are far from enlightened. Even the hosts themselves, who seem generally progressive on the issue of "Can men cry?," talk at times as if they're a bit put off by the whole thing.

And they are, but not necessarily for macho reasons of disagreement with the fact that it happened in the first place. Their discomfort is our discomfort, and our discomfort is relatively engrained in our culture, where we, in general, don't want to see men cry because 1) they're not supposed to and 2) because they're not supposed to, we, the viewers, don't know how to respond. (To be fair, I think most of us prefer not to be in the presence of someone extremely upset and crying; nothing feels right in that moment.)

The episode contains an interview with an expert in the science of crying, and by her own admission, it's somewhat surprising how little research is done on something as common as crying.

The science of crying is fascinating: Crying isn't the peak of our emotional distress. That comes in the lead-up to the tears, when our breath speeds up and we feel the fight-or-flight response well up in us. But once we actually give way to tears, our body is shifting from that sympathetic response to a parasympathetic one, known as "rest and digest," as our body returns to homeostasis.

Pablo and Dave find that as the direct opposite of the criticisms of Williams: He cares too much, he's too invested, and arguably, this crying episode is evidence that he's living and dying with the result of every game. In other words, exactly what NFL scouts say they want in a draft pick.

It's not likely to be viewed that way by the wider public, but I'm glad the episode went there.

The second half of the interview turns to former New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the "Darth Vader of pro football" famously known not to emote.

They try to get to the bottom of whether he cried when the team blew its perfect season in a Super Bowl loss, and the answer seemed to be not really but maybe he had "moisture around the eyes."

More interest was how they watch a clip of him from the documentary The Two Bills, and he comes so close to crying but doesn't quite get to it. His voice quivers. His breathing gets faster. Without being able to see it, a listener would be forgiven for thinking tears were streaming down his face.

They come to the conclusion that watching him try so hard not to cry was actually worse than the not-knowing-what-to-do-with-ourselves discomfort of watching Williams curl up in his mom's arms and sob uncontrollably.

I would have found this interesting no matter what, but it's been on my mind a lot lately. With the one-year anniversary of my dad's passing earlier this month, I found myself seemingly not very far along the path to closure when it came to talking about him and his passing. I couldn't do it. Tears would come up immediately, and I would struggle so hard to keep them at bay that I would practically choke on any words I was trying to get out and air I was trying to gulp down.

I hated being seen that way. It wasn't so much the crying because I've been conditioned to believe that it's OK to cry, even for men, maybe especially for men. And I know that, intellectually.

But something else takes over in that moment, when I'm caught between wanting the catharsis that inevitably comes from a good cry and straining so hard not to be seen as crying, as needing that catharsis, and I so often revert to someone whose actions make clear his opinions on masculinity and crying aren't actually that evolved but rather sound a lot like those critics of Williams at the early part of the podcast.

I think my addled brain considers it some kind of affront to my dad's memory because it feels so distant from the man he was. Quiet, stoic, tough-as-nails military man—that was him. He never sat me down and said, "Men don't cry. Don't let me see you do it." It was absorbed though, a sort of instruction by osmosis: This is not what we do.

Maybe part of my aversion to being seen that way stems from not wanting him to see me that way. I foolishly thought he'd want to see himself reflected in me, to be as strong as he was, when again, intellectually, I feel confident that he'd want to see me, his eldest boy who wasn't really all that much like him outwardly. That insight came too late to be useful, and my struggles with not letting him see me cry made for some difficult final days where I said barely a fraction of the things I know I wanted to.

Now though, what I wouldn't give to have let go and been as vulnerable as Williams was in the arms of his family, had I known then just how close we were to the end.

Charles Darwin couldn't think of an evolutionary reason for crying, calling the act of weeping "purposeless." The crying expert has a more satisfying answer than that, but even if there weren't a evolutionary explanation for crying, the kind of wrestling I've been doing lately (that this podcast episode did, as well)—of masculinity and emotions and how to be in this big ol' world—certainly serves a purpose for me.