I cried minutes after my college graduation ceremony. Mostly because I feared the future, figuring out what to do with my life. I didn’t know what that was.
I cried the day I got cut from my college baseball team. I had never been cut from any team before. That “you’re not good enough” thunderbolt marked the official end of my formal athletic career. It felt like a machete ripping through my heart.
I cried when the nurse said, “it’s a boy” when my first and only son came into this world. I hadn’t expected to ever be the father of a boy.
Crying hurts. Crying scares us. When we cry, we lose control. None of us likes feeling out of control.
We cry when big things happen in our lives. As I entered the Holland Tunnel leaving New York City after a workday, my brother called and told me our dad had passed away. My first thought: What an unpleasant place to find out you’re Dad died entering a dark dirty tunnel 200 miles from where your father had taken his last breath.
Hours later, thinking about my dad, I lost control and cried. It didn’t feel good. Living far away, I had not seen my dad much over the past 20 years and I felt bad about that.
Why am I focused on crying? Because you’ll see players crying during the next three weeks of the March Madness basketball tournament. Most of those tears will be on the faces of players on losing teams who, all at once, realize they may have played their last game of organized team basketball.
Suddenly, they start thinking about what to do next with their lives. Will they still be friends with their teammates? How can they be sure? They can’t. All the uncertainty sobers them.
Basketball had been a certainty for them every day since they can remember, a constant companion. They sense they’re losing their best friend.
In a sense they are. When you play your last game of basketball and start thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life, it’s overwhelming and unsettling.
So uncertain, the future. So many unclear decisions to be wrestled with. Why do you think Tom Brady decided to unretire a week ago and return to the game he’s been playing his entire life?
Not sure what to do next? Not sure it will fulfill him the way football does?
Yes and yes.
In 1981 at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland, I played in the McDonalds Capital Classic Preliminary Game. Afterward, I remember walking off the court and through the tunnel to the locker room with an unfamiliar feeling of OK, what do I do now? Is this the end of my basketball career that kept me obsessed and entertained for 12 straight years?
I didn’t cry but felt strange like a new day was about to dawn on me that I wouldn’t understand how to interpret.
The players you see crying after games during March Madness exude sadness because, in part, they didn’t win the championship, a dream all of them have as young boys. They learn that difficult life lesson: We don’t always get what we want.
This lesson they will learn hundreds of times during the rest of their lives. They won’t win. They’ll get whipped. They’ll get humiliated. They’ll realize that life doesn’t pan out the way we want it to all the time. They’ll get fired or not hired. They’ll run into bosses who want to dominate and control them.
Life after basketball isn’t going to be perfect and often not as fun. It’s understandable they cry.
But crying doesn’t just occur when we’re sad about our murky futures and disappointed we didn’t finish as champions. We cry with joy.
Like when we have a boy, or a girl, or fall in love. When my daughter got accepted to her dream college, which happened to be the one I graduated from, we both cried. It was one of the best moments of my entire life.
So much studying and worrying came before that moment, making it a cathartic relief and feeling of overcoming doubts and rejections. Her acceptance reminded us that life does have great moments. And more lies ahead.
As parents, we cry for and with our children for deeper and more important reasons than whether we won or lost a basketball game. On the morning of my graduation to accept my MBA diploma, my two seven-year-old twin daughters came down to my home office all dressed up for the occasion, proud of Dad.
I looked at both of them and burst out crying. These were not tears of joy. They were tears of regret. For two straight years, I had been consumed with 18 classes to earn that degree while working full time, and I hadn’t spent much time with my two daughters.
I’ll never get those two years back with them because of my egotistical academic ambition.
This is life. Mixed emotions fill our days, year after year. We’re conflicted by so much that confounds and confuses us, leaves us longing and grasping. We want to be the best in our careers but realize that we can’t do that and be the best parent and spouse. The two don’t go together. So we compromise. We try to find balance, some sort of happiness and contentment. We do, sometimes, and that’s goodness.
These make up the ups and downs ahead for all those March Madness basketball players you’ll see crying over the next few weeks. Their tears make sense. Their lives will get tougher than putting a round ball in a ring. There will be more complicated decisions to sort out, more emotions to unpack, more sadness to endure.
But here’s what’s also true though not intuitive. Life after basketball gets better, more fulfilling, and more meaningful. The joys of marriage and parenthood far surpass any basketball glory. The feeling of satisfaction in knowing you wouldn’t quit on yourself, your wife, or your kids no matter what curve balls life threw at you, regardless of what narcissistic jerks tried to screw up your life, will light up your soul.
You’ll cry in the future. But many will be tears of joy. You’ll cut the nets down, from time to time, feeling like a champion of your life.
That’s what real glory feels like.
Welcome to March Madness.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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