I did something terrible: when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson broke down and cried (and cried) (and cried) at the last-minute, miraculous win of a really important football game—I laughed.
It’s not what you think.
I laughed and mimicked him because of the spectacle being made over a football game. I would have laughed no matter who was crying: the mascot, the coach’s wife, the guy who makes sure the big Thermos is full so they can dump cold sticky stuff all over each other because that’s the most imaginative gesture these guys can come up with to celebrate a victory, the janitor who has to clean that shit up off the shower room floor and towels.
I did not laugh because a grown man was crying. Not just any grown man, but a macho symbol of a sport in which the men wear leotards and face paint and slap each other on their tight buns. I mean, a macho symbol of a sport in which strength, brutality, rape, wife beating, child beating, child molestation, head injuries, suicide, monotone narration in TV commercials, and DUIs are more common than a man’s tears. Not just any man’s tears, but an athlete who is man enough to cry publicly (not that he had a choice about the public part, with every camera in the United States on the field with him instead of off filming Kim Kardashian’s bottom).
Russell Wilson broke down with joy and relief that God himself decided that Russell Wilson’s team should prevail (please note that my football facts, like this God intervention quote from a sobbing Wilson, are secondhand from drunk friends or sober middle-schoolers).
Like, really? God doesn’t give a flying fig about cartoonists and a proofreader (a proofreader! a young man who cares about semicolons!) or a school full of children being mowed down in a hail of bullets but is going to take a moment to turn the tide of a football game? I’ll grant you that God might have had something to do with the Janet Jackson nipple thing, because He loves to mess with us, but…. Okay this is Russell Wilson, but, still, wouldn’t that be called a delusion of grandeur in mental health circles?
But my point is that I laughed at a grown man crying. A grown man with biceps the size of his paycheck wept unabashed, authentic, profound tears in front of millions. Boo hoo hoo! I’m so happy that I’m gonna get laid tonight, big time, and we stand to make another gazillion dollars off of commercial endorsements now that we’re going to the Super Bowl! And I belittled him. But not because these were XY-chromosome tears.
I laughed in front of my twelve-year-old son, the Little Monkey, who cares a great deal about athletes and sports. I laughed because LM loves football; I teased to keep the city-wide insanity in perspective. It’s. A. Game. Winning Isn’t Everything.
We should be crying about what it cost to build the stadium they played in (a stadium the citizenry voted down). We should be crying about Bertha the Boring Machine stuck under our city, which is now sinking around her. We should be crying about the viaduct Bertha was supposed to help replace, a viaduct now held together with toothpaste and dental floss, a viaduct the Man I Married traverses twice daily. The only unanswered question about the viaduct is whether it will pancake or topple sideways into Puget Sound when the next minor tremor rattles us like an illegal tackle.
Perhaps it’s because of those things that our city feels so strongly about a team that unites us, a once losing team advancing for the second year in a row in a city with precious few championship trophies (none matter to me except our 1917 Stanley Cup). I like walking the streets here when everyone’s wearing the same blue and green outfits; it’s like we’re all one big Catholic boarding school, uplifted after the pedophile priest is hauled off to be tarred and feathered.
But I was so, so wrong to laugh.
The Little Monkey cares enough about football that I had arranged for him to hang out with friends who have a MFBTV (mother-loving big television) in order to watch this championship game that decided which team went to the Super Bowl. I assure you that LM being out of our hair, while the Man I Married and I had the Armageddon-like Seattle streets and restaurants to ourselves, had absolutely nothing to do with parking LM at someone else’s house for the afternoon. MIM and I had a rotten time doing donuts on traffic-less streets, rolling naked on the grass at the deserted downtown Ballard park (even the transients had gone off to find a television), eating copious samples at the empty Farmers Market (we might have visited the wine merchant more than once just to keep him company), and having our pick of seats and excellent water service at a normally packed restaurant solarium. The 12th Man—Seattle’s term for The Fans, because we’ve voted down monorails and stadiums 12 times—were all indoors watching the game. Every last one of them except MIM and I, it appeared. We suffered through the time-killing until it was time to pick up the Little Monkey when we guessed the game was about over.
We cared enough about LM that we tuned the car radio (AM, even! who knew AM still worked?) in to the game on the two-mile drive to pick him up. The home team was something like 3,000 points behind with four minutes left in the game. The 12th Man, which had set a record for loudest NFL crowd, was eerily silent as we crept north, in search of our brainwashed child. I drove slowly, afraid of hitting zombies. Judging by the late afternoon silence, it seemed like 12th Man had committed mass suicide at the inevitable crushing loss.
MIM and I winced and oohed in sympathy for the poor, heartbroken Little Monkey as we listened to the Seahawks lose another 638 points during the drive.
But the Little Monkey needed no hugs from us. He had a MFBTV. He had computer games on a handheld electronic device. He had nachos and homemade pizza. He’d had no parents for three hours. His pupils were bigger than his irises as his thumbs performed gymnastics on a computer the size of my toothbrush. Parked six inches in front of a television as big as a parking lot, he had regressed to being the Little Monster. While the rest of Seattle morphed into zombies, he had become something worse: a typical teenager.
I sat next to him to watch the countdown to unavoidable loss so that I could cushion the crushing defeat with motherly affection. But the Little Monster argued with me about the year of a certain championship (I knew I was right, because it had just been flashed on the TV screen while he was looking at his computer game). He argued with me when the TV camera flashed on an anguished woman in the crowd and I called her one of the players’ wives. “That’s not a wife, that’s just a fan,” LM sneered at my non-sports-mom lack of expertise. Believe me, when you’ve watched as much televised sports as I have during my fanatical hockey years, you know which women are The Wives and which are the fans. It is very easy to distinguish Mrs. Gretzy from Barista Barb and Cashier Kate. He argued with me about which way the sun sets and the meaning of argue. He treated me with the disdain of the star quarterback contemptuously addressing the pimply, gay, chess club treasurer.
Televised football and Victoria’s Secret commercials had hijacked my sweet child. It was as if Zeus had swept in during halftime to rob me of my beautiful Ganymede and left me with Danny Partridge.
I did what any sensible mother would do. I went to the kitchen and polished off the potato chips.
And when a few minutes later the Hawks won and Wilson cried (and cried) (and cried), I laughed and boo hoo hooed to tease the Little Monster.
We never tease the Little Monkey. It doesn’t come with the territory with this particular child.
I teased to remind him that this was still earth, we were still his parents, he still had to eat Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, and this was just a football game. Oh, and he’d better knock that shit off or that moronic, dipshit mother of his would not bring him back to this magical house to watch the Super Bowl.
Can we please all go back to our regular programming and personalities now?
But I soon realized two things:
1) Good Christ, I might have to take my child to another Super bowl Victory Parade; the previous year’s ranks as one of the worst days of my life, and,
2) I had missed a Teachable Moment (another nouveau parenting term my mother would have thrown her Rum and Tab at).
The thing about Wilson crying is that he never turned away from the camera. He didn’t hang his head or shield his face with a towel. He openly wept, and his mates patted him on the arse, and everybody went about their manly business of collecting bonus checks and endorsement contracts and showering with Gatorade.
What a wonderful thing for my 12-year-old boy to see. In hindsight, this was the most important and momentous moment my male child had yet seen on television (did I mention he watches no television?). On the cusp of manhood himself, what better message could a star football player send him? You can cry, and it will only add to the number of people who will want to marry you. Plus, Visine and Kleenex might offer beaucoup bucks to do a commercial.
So I did what any sensible mother would do. I ate an entire chocolate cake, drank a dirty martini, and apologized to the Little Monkey for laughing.
I explained that I was not laughing at a man crying, but that I was laughing at the idea of investing so much importance in winning or losing; I was ridiculing the absurd importance we’ve given to a sport that often sends the wrong message. Its emissaries don’t seem like the kind of people I’d like my son to emulate. After the overturning of the Penn State decisions, news that was wholly overshadowed by the Seahawks championship run, I’d like football to be eradicated entirely: its skewed priorities have never been clearer, showing molested boys that, in the long run, they don’t matter.
But football players can change the world, in a positive way. By showing boys that it’s okay to cry.
I did point out to LM that Wilson cried quietly. He did not wail, scream, yell, and stomp. Just saying.
Russell Wilson’s loss at the Super Bowl two weeks later was just as last minute, unexpected, and stunning as that championship victory. He was publicly and viciously excoriated. But he showed up at our local Children’s Hospital two days after a defeat that would have left most of us surrounded by piles of empty Foster’s Lager cans, considering a hose, a running car, and a locked garage. He had shorn his locks like a grieving Achilles, but, nonetheless, he showed up where it mattered.
He’s been showing up weekly, consistently, at Children’s Hospital for years, to visit sick kids and their families. Anyone would have excused his absence that day. I don’t know if Wilson cried or not after the Super Bowl loss, but I cried when I saw the pictures of him, looking decidedly drawn, at the bedsides of too-young cancer patients, who were suddenly having a championship day.
Football players can change the way we think. By crying, or wearing pantyhose like Joe Namath, or knitting like Rosie Greer. By being role models in a nation that sorely needs good ones, especially in the messages we spoon-feed to adolescent boys.
Wilson lost just as graciously as he won, and his Children’s Hospital visit kept it all in perspective. He showed us not how to be a man, but how to be a human being.
I’d attend a parade for that.
Photo Credits, in order of appearance:
Russell Wilson crying white shirt: http://larrybrownsports.com/football/russell-wilson-crying-postgame-interview-video/252861
Russell Wilson crying blue shirt: http://deadspin.com/seahawks-tweets-deletes-mlk-quote-with-photo-of-crying-1680460659
Organic Veggies Hawks, PCC Natural Markets: Arline Garcia
12th man flag on Space Needle: http://www.spaceneedle.com/news/2013/01/space-needle-raises-12th-man-flag-with-seattle-mayor-and-area-musicians/
Deserted Seattle Street: Melinda Howard
2014 Parade: Jennifer D. Munro
Russell Wilson, February 3, with Aylinn and Jonathon: https://www.facebook.com/strongagainstcancer
Binary 12th Man: Kathryn Hill