Friday, January 14, 2011

Yes, There Is Crying in Softball

In youth sports these days, a favorite refrain from adults, especially male coaches, is “There’s no crying in . . . [name the sport].” The phrase, taken from the 1992 Tom Hanks movie A League of Their Own, has even come into the vernacular with people now saying “there’s no crying in . . . [name the profession].” Certain phrases that become common can be charming, such as “where’s the beef?” or “it’s time to make the donuts,” but this one about crying is not just hurtful, its speakers are woefully unaware of psychology and the full context of the source of the phrase.

Let’s take the source first. Coach Jimmy Dugan, the Hanks character, screams criticism at one of his players for making a mistake. The player, a member of a World War II all-women’s baseball team, cries. Coach Dugan continues to scream, this time in disbelief, and recites the famous line.

A few points about this scene need to be remembered. One is that coach Dugan, who enjoys the bottle, has a less than savory character. Another is that during the screams, Doris, a character played by Rosie O’Donnell, tells the coach to leave Evelyn (the crier) alone. Then, the umpire follows up with this advice to the coach: “Treat each of these girls as you would treat your mother.” At which point the Hanks character lets out an X-rated remark to the man in blue and is promptly ejected. The scene concludes with Doris happily and proudly asserting herself by saying, “I’m in charge now.” The phrase “no crying in baseball” is hardly endorsed as admirable.

So why do so many people, especially men, like to recite this line? And why do they say it to younger and younger kids, especially nine- and ten-year-old girls, playing softball? Does no one remember the 1993 movie In The Line of Fire in which Clint Eastwood, playing a secret service agent, cries on screen? Real men, I’m tempted to say, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries do seem to cry and it seems to be okay. Why isn’t it okay for nine- and ten-year-old girls to cry?

The answer is that many men are embarrassed by crying. They see it as a sign of weakness and will do anything to avoid crying themselves, especially in front of anyone close to them, such as their wives, and certainly not in public. If they are in charge of a sports team and one of their players begins to cry, they become uncomfortable, worrying about what everyone else in the area—parents, opposing coaches, umpires—may be thinking of them. They feel compelled to do something, to fix the situation, hence the exhortations about not crying.

But crying is a sign of pain, not weakness. Striking out for the last out of the inning or making a mistake on the field can be just as painful as taking a line drive on the knee. Pain requires comforting, not rebuke. Telling anyone, especially a child, that it is wrong to feel something only encourages psychological repression, which can lead to a muted emotional life as an adult and unpleasant, angry emotions coming out at the wrong time or place.

There can be complicating factors in the situation that needs to be fixed. A shortstop or pitcher must get out on the field, but is still crying over her strikeout, and the umpire is urging the coach to keep the game moving. However, there are alternatives to rebukes and sending an upset girl to the field with the clichéd line to “shake it off.” Comforting words and a request from the umpire for thirty more seconds can do wonders for the pain of the strikeout and perhaps turn coach into a hero of a ten-year-old girl, maybe even of some of the parents in the stands.

There are also other ways of responding to the “no crying in baseball” line of coach Dugan’s. Why is it just crying that should not be a part of baseball? Why not other emotions, such as laughter or anger? I’m tempted to approach coach Dugan and say something like the following, in disbelief, of course: “Hey coach. Are you angry? . . . You’re angry?? . . .There’s no anger in baseball!”

Sports, especially the youth variety, would probably be a lot more fun if adults abided by that admonition. And if the popularity of this new phrase were to spread, we would soon be saying, “There’s no anger in business . . . or politics . . . or education!” And what about laughter, reducing the argument to the absurd? Can we not also say, “There’s no laughter in baseball!”

The point of this post is that emotions have their place in life, which includes sports. Emotions should not be denied.

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