Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For Crying Out Loud

Good grief. Brett Favre cried on live TV. He was announcing his decision to retire as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers and he didn’t just get a little choked up - he sobbed - and was unable to talk for minutes at a time. He would start and stop, too emotional to continue. I was watching during my lunch break at work and I felt ambivalent. I sympathized, but I was also embarrassed for him. Others had similar reactions, both men and women, judging from what I heard on radio and television afterward. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since.

Favre is admired by football fans across the country. Men admire his athletic talent, his abilities to think quickly and lead his team against another team of talented athletes trying to make him and his team look foolish. He’s taken a lot of physical punishment and continued to show up ready to play year after year. He’s won championships and compiled one of the best records in pro football. Women admire those things, and also consider him attractive. Whatever Favre is, he’s a man upon whom many project their images of what a man should be, so his behavior that day continued to reverberate. The way we react is a window on our culture, an insight into Americans male and female.

Laura Ingraham, a syndicated, conservative, radio talk show, hostess, had a profoundly negative reaction to Favre’s crying. She acknowledged all his accomplishments and the esteem in which Green Bay fans held him, but she believed he should have been able to suck it up better when he made his announcement. When she opened it up to comments from her listening audience, the reaction of most men to Favre’s crying was distinctly different from that of most women callers, but not in the way I expected. Generally, the men thought it was okay for Favre to cry, but the women didn’t. They agreed with Laura Ingraham that it was unmanly.

Most men respect Favre because they know he’s not a wimp. They believe he has a right to display what many consider weakness because his strengths are beyond doubt. Strong men can actually admired for displays of weakness. Only semi-tough men are afraid of them. The semi-tough ridicule weakness it because they fear it. They fear it because they hide their own from others. Some hide it even from themselves and have a mostly unconscious negative reaction when they see it.

Most women who called in that morning agreed with the hostess and disapproved of Favre’s crying. That surprised me because women I’ve known criticize men, me included, for not showing enough emotion. Could be they just wanted to kiss up to Laura Ingraham, the show’s hostess. Whatever their reasons, I sensed they wanted to protect and preserve their own proclivity to cry, but to do so believing that strong men were around to keep their composure and rationally deal with whatever situation caused a woman’s grief. When Favre cried, it disturbed that feeling of security.

American soldiers on a web-based military forum discussed Favre’s crying and many poked fun at the episode, claiming that according to the “Man Book,” crying is only allowed for a man “when mother dies, his dog dies, or when Christina Aquilera gets married.”

My favorite forum comment was by “MightyB” who said: “Talk about the Libs, downgrade the Democrats, rip the Conservatives, Demonize the Republicans… BUT DON'T YOU SAY A DAMN THING ABOUT ONE OF THE GREATEST QBs to ever suit up . . . I've seen some real badasses cry in my day. I once watched someone cry as he d*** near beat another man to death. I've also seen men cry upon taking a life. Men got to get over [calling] a field warrior like Brett a [wimp]. I don't know for sure, but could anyone of us here take a solid hit from Strahan and stay in the game? [Wimp] indeed!”

Under MightyB’s name was the quote: “Bravery isn’t the absence of fear but the conquest of it.” I like that.

Maybe I wasn’t embarrassed for Favre. Maybe what I felt was compassion for a good man suffering a loss. Most men have strong feelings but we don’t usually know what they are. They sneak up on us sometimes and we don’t even know what to call them, much less how to deal with them.