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Jacobsen: Crying acceptable for a good cause (March 25)

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, March 25, 2013

I hate crying. I can’t stand it. Seeing another adult burst into tears fills me with paralyzing dread. I wish the no-crying-in-baseball adage could be extended to cover homecoming dances, room picks and getting back midterm grades.

So you would think that I hate Tray Woodall’s breakdown after Pittsburgh lost to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament Thursday. Not so.

When the senior guard went to face the media and declared his performance the worst of his career before dissolving into tears, he managed – at least for a moment – to sweep away the cynicism that surrounds big-time athletics.

After the sexual assault-scandals at Penn State and in Steubenville, Ohio, unceasing NCAA sanctions at powerhouses like Ohio State and the University of Miami and Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ alleged murder of his girlfriend, all the claims about the “character-building” effects of athletic competition begin to sound like a load of mumbo jumbo. Look at Johnny Manziel ‘s online course load or Matt Leinart’s ballroom dancing-only schedule in his last year at USC – neither example lends much credence to the “student coming before athlete” talk. And even if we disregard any allegations that Cam Newton’s father shopped him to the highest bidder, it’s hard to believe that Newton was fully dedicated to his teammates or Auburn after transferring twice.

But when Woodall tearfully apologized for letting his team down after he scored just two points in the last game of his college career, it was painfully obvious that he meant every word.
As teammate Dante Taylor put his arm around the despondent point guard, the whole world could see that these weren’t just a bunch of guys in search of individual glory while wearing matching shirts. These were teammates in the purest sense of the term – young men who worked together, cared about each other and were accountable to one another.

Any general manager or professional free agent will say that sports is a business. Well, that’s true. It would be silly to act like any form of entertainment with revenue streams in the millions of dollars isn’t a business. But I sincerely doubt that executives at Coca-Cola sob openly after unsuccessful board meetings. Pittsburgh itself would have benefitted financially if the team had made a deep run in the tournament, but Woodall would be no richer today if he had led his team to victory. He hadn’t hurt his draft stock – he didn’t really have any to begin with. He wasn’t mourning lost dollars and cents, but a lost opportunity, the last chance he had to cut down the nets and bring glory to Pitt. That doesn’t strike me as business as usual.
Woodall’s emotional reaction flies in the face of stereotypes that paint all athletes as arrogant, overly macho and self-centered. I can’t speak to Woodall’s behavior in other situations, but no one who has seen the video could fairly conclude that he is an insensitive meathead. He certainly wasn’t on Thursday night.

And in an odd, roundabout way, Woodall has reminded us of the very best part of the tournament. In a few weeks, the new national champions will celebrate as they are serenaded by “One Shining Moment,” and each of them will be as overjoyed as Woodall was heartbroken. Neither emotion would exist without the other; Woodall wept openly because he knew he would never experience the joy of winning a national championship. And a national championship wouldn’t mean half as much to the victors if they hadn’t outlasted 67 other tournament teams who desperately wanted to win.

I’m not happy that I watched Woodall cry on national TV. But I am glad that he cared enough to do so.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.