Shaquille O’Neal, left, and Kobe Bryant chat at the unveiling of a statue of O’Neal in front of Staples Center, Friday, March 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Retired NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal did an interview Tuesday discussing his working relationship and personal friendship with fellow Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 41, who passed away along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 others in a horrific helicopter crash that happened on Sunday in Calabasas, California.
O’Neal was visibly emotional and shed many tears during the segment, which you can watch below:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 29, 2020
Watching the Hall of Fame basketball player wear his heart on his sleeve and talk about how precious life is reaffirmed with me, and hopefully many others, of how important it is to let boys and men know that it’s okay if they cry. That there is no shame in showing that emotion. There is healing in crying, especially after the loss of a loved one or close friend.
I grew up in a house full of women. There was mom, of course, and my two sisters. My grandmother (mom’s mom) also lived with us in her later years. In fact, even most of the pets I had as a child and teenager were girls.
Naturally, there were more than a few tears shed in our household. During sad movies, over a bad day at school or work, because of a break-up, or due to a family disagreement or conflict. You know, the usual things we women get emotional over.
Through it all, there was my dad, who remained stoic the vast majority of the time. The only time I remember my dad crying when I was a young girl was when he lost his mother. He tried hard not to show his tears, but I saw them – and I heard the sniffles, and noticed the used handkerchiefs on the living room table.
At family reunions around uncles and male cousins, and around male friends in the neighborhood and at school, college, and beyond, the guys were the same. Now, they had no trouble showing emotion. Whether it was in the form of laughter, or anger, or bewilderment. But when it came to tears, you almost never saw them shed any.
I’d sometimes ask my mom, “Mama, why don’t guys cry?” She’d look down at my curious face and simply say, “Oh, sweet pea. They should, but it’s a man thing.”
Oh, sure, I’d seen boys cry when they skinned their knees or fell off their bicycles but that’s when we were all children and that’s what children do when they get hurt.
But as we all got older, the boys no longer cried when they had accidents. Even the ones who broke their legs on the football field, or who got cramps running track. They agonized, but they never cried.
It wasn’t until I was out of my teens that I finally figured out why that was. In so many words, the guys I asked about it only half-jokingly said “Crying’s for girls.”
I read between the lines. Boys didn’t cry because in the eyes of other boys they thought it made them look weak.
I even talked to my dad about it at some point, telling him that if he ever felt the need to cry that it was okay, and that if another man laughed at him about it that was their problem, not his.
He laughed. “You’re right, honey.”
But I can count on one hand the number of times I can remember my dad crying after that. There was the one time when mama was really sick, the time we lost our 17-year-old cat Muffin (a girl), and at Christmas a couple of years ago when he abruptly said at the dining room table how thankful he was to still be here in spite of all of his health issues.
At my age, I do realize now that men not crying is not always because in some circles it is viewed as a sign of weakness. As a woman, I know women in general tend to be more sentimental and soft-hearted about things than men can be (there are exceptions to that rule, of course). So with that in mind, I think it’s safe to say men don’t tend to get weepy over the same things and as often as women do (the sappy soap opera heartbreaks, the loss of a job, a friend’s betrayal, etc.).
Still, even in this day and age, men crying openly and in public is something you don’t seen often and I think it’s because the stigma still exists. It’s unfortunate, but it’s still there.
While discussing Bryant and his legacy on TNT Tuesday, night, O’Neal also talked about how he lost his sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex, 40, to cancer last October. Both of their deaths were a wake-up call to him, he said in so many words.
“I just really now have to take time and call and say I love you. … I’m gonna try to do a better job of just reaching out and just talking to other people rather than always procrastinating because you never know,” he vowed.
And if he feels the urge to cry more, in public as well as private, that’s fine, too.