When Michael Jordan got emotional at the Basketball Hall of Fame Ceremony last week, I remembered Edmund Muskie.  Edmund Muskie was a US Senator from Maine who ran for President in 1972. When Muskie cried in front of a rolling camera, his campaign was over. Who, after all, could trust a weak man in the Oval Office?  How could a weeper stare down the Soviet Union? After I saw Jordan’s tears, I wondered if his fate might be similar to Muskie. Would Michael Jordan suddenly become the basketball player who cried in public?


I doubt it. In the thirty-seven years since Muskie met his end on the campaign trail, men do tear up or cry in public. Consider US Presidents or a Presidential Contender. Remember the George Bushes, Bob Dole, and Bill Clinton?  One can almost argue that Edmund Muskie paved the way for these men to cry in public and thrive.

Muskie was a US Senator and a Presidential Candidate. He was on the Democrat’s Presidential Ticket with Hubert Humphrey as Vice-Presidential nominee. He was Secretary of State under President Carter.  Now that Muskie is no longer with us, it appears his most memorable contribution to the world continues to be the tears he shed.

When the young Edmund Muskie dreamed of his future, I don’t think he imagined being a trailblazer for masculine tears.  Instead, he probably led with ambition.  When I think about my own legacy, I count my achievements and acts of stewardship.  I compare myself to Michael Jordan and come up short.  When I take Muskie’s tears to heart, however, I realize some legacies are wildly unintended, yet no less powerful.  I take comfort in knowing I am not in charge of my legacy.


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2 responses to “Tears

  1. peter lynch

    you might find it interesting, confusing, and disappointing, but perhaps not surprising to know that jordan took some heat from the sporting press for that appearance. some men can cry, some won’t let themselves, or their heroes, even their anti-heroes.

    i must admit i am not a great a fan of jordan, partly because i am not a great fan of professional basketball. as for college hoops, i went to uva in the days when phil ford lacerated us elegantly with the lethal ballet of the four corners. jordan belongs to an era after mine, an era coarsened by pre-graduation nba drafts. i will give him credit, though, for not feeling ashamed to cry at moments of great meaning.

    your mentioning ed muskie reminds me of all the tears we saw on male faces two weeks ago at the jfk library and in the basilica of our lady of perpetual help–chris dodd’s face, john mccain’s, but especially patrick and ted kennedy, jr.’s. even the buttoned-up orrin hatch seemed to tear up at one point in an impressive if slightly too disapproving contribution, despite that possibly the most eloquent.

    one thought from all this. not only do we never know where our influence may show up in others’ lives. the real benefit of the sea-change of the 70s may not have been the acceptability of athletes and public figures crying at moments of great significance. thank god for that. the real benefit, though, is the increasing–not a done deal, but increasing–acceptability of male tears at the movies, in private moments of great power, and so forth.

    i remember my father pronouncing himself a failure to my mother and me, collapsed in tears which he took as both expression of the statement and evidence if its truth. nobody should have to bear that double burden.

  2. peter lynch

    are you aware that jordan went on to humiliate a whole series of people he’d invited to the ceremony, including his high school coach, over slights they’d committed over the years? his high school coach? this from a man who won how many championships with unc and the bulls? maybe those tears spring from a vulnerability that suggests the need for professional help.

    the problem with sound bytes video clips…

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