The 15 Greatest Man Cries (Plus 5 Dishonorable Mentions)

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 22, 2008 · 48 comments

in Diversions, Travel & Leisure

On Friday we discussed when it is appropriate for a man to cry. In short, a man should only cry when something truly significant happens. The less frequently something occurs, the more weight given it. Thus the rarity of male tears lends to them true potency. When a man sheds tears, particularly in the public eye, people sit up and take notice. We know something truly consequential is occurring.

For the purposes of this post, a “man cry” is defined as anything ranging from being choked up to an out and out sob. Now without further ado, the Art of Manliness presents the 15 greatest man cries in modern history:

Walter Cronkite-November 22, 1963

Cronkite, the famous anchorman for CBS, had a reputation for being cool and composed. But he is perhaps best remembered for the moment he lost a bit of that composure and captured a nation’s heartbreak. On Nov. 22, 1963, Cronkite interrupted “As the World Turns” to break the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. At this point, the media was unaware if the wounds had been fatal and Cronkite began what he called “the running battle between my emotions and my news sense.” At 2:38 the news came in that Kennedy had died. After making the announcement on air, Cronkite valiantly tried to keep from crying. He swallowed hard as his eyes grew moist and his voiced filled with emotion. Recalling that fateful day several decades later, he said, “I choked up, I really had a little trouble…my eyes got a little wet…[what Kennedy had represented] was just all lost to us. Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually [crying].”

Dwight D. Eisenhower-June 5, 1944

In the hours before D-Day was to begin, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, visited with the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division to bolster their morale. As he moved amongst the troops, Eisenhower’s heart was heavy; he knew a 70% casualty rate was possible for the men standing before him. At 11:00 pm, Eisenhower stood on the roof of the nearby headquarters and saluted each plane as it took off en route to France. As these brave men soared past him, tears filled Eisenhower’s eyes. “I’ve done all I can,” he had told them. “Now it is up to you.”

Cal Ripken-Sept. 6, 1995

Despite Tom Hanks impassioned argument that there is no crying in baseball, many a player has broken down from time to time. Cal Ripken’s moment in the tearful spotlight came the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive game starts. Baseball’s own Iron Man surpassed the 2,130 record during a game between the Orioles and the Angels. When the new record became official in the fifth inning, 50,000 fans erupted into a standing ovation that lasted 22 minutes. While such a reaction might make any man weep, Ripken soaked it all in while remaining merely misty-eyed.

Anderson Cooper-September 3, 2005

While news anchors have traditionally been known for stoically reporting the facts, Anderson has become the poster boy for a more emotive style of covering the news. Cooper cut short his vacation in Croatia to be in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina hit. Cut off from his producers for several days, Copper made his way through the city, taking in the death and destruction. On the fourth day of coverage, Cooper berated Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu for her glib answers to his questions. He then started talking to a group of desperate-looking evacuees, one of which was holding an American flag. Cooper’s emotions, which he had been bubbling at the surface for days, spilled over and tears ran down his face as the camera rolled. While not every one is a fan of his “emo-anchor” style, Cooper gets points for being himself and showing some genuine humanity.

Andre Agassi-September 3, 2006

Suffering from intense pain in his back that required the anti-inflammatory injections after every match, Andre Agassi announced that his appearance in the 2006 US Open would be his last professional event before retiring from the game he loved. Agassi’s stunning career came to an end when he fell to 112th ranked Benjamin Becker in the third round. The crowd gave Agassi a four minute standing ovation. Tears poured from Agassi’s eyes as he addressed his fans. “The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I’ve found.”

George Washington-April 30, 1789

On April 16, 1789 George Washington began the journey from his beloved Mount Vernon home to the nation’s capitol, New York City. All along the route, in every hamlet and city along the way, freshly made Americans flocked to wave and salute the man who had led them through the country’s War of Independence and who would now lead it into the future. Citizens similarly lined the streets of New York City as Washington made his way to Federal Hall on Wall Street to finally take the oath of office. As Washington stood on the balcony of that building, the enormous crowd watched the momentous occasion. Chancellor Robert B. Livingston solemnly pronounced the oath, the Bible was raised, and the President bowed to kiss it. “I swear,” he declared. With eyes closed, he then fervently added, “So help me God!” Then the Chancellor said, “It is done,” turned to the crowd and loudly exclaimed, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” The crowd erupted in praise and applause. The new President bowed again and again, and had to stop to wipe tears from his eyes.

Lou Gehrig-July 4, 1939

It seemed as if the luminous career of Lou Gehrig would go on forever. The Yankee’s first baseman and prodigious slugger, was nicknamed the Iron Horse for his durability and commitment to the game. Sadly, his record for suiting up for 2,130 consecutive games came to an end when at age 36 Gehrig was stricken with the crippling disease that now bears his name. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held a ceremony to honor their teammate and friend. They retired Gehrig’s number, spoke of his greatness, and presented him with various gifts, plaques, and trophies. Finally, Gehrig addressed the crowd and said, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The crowd gave Lou a standing ovation and Gehrig cried some of the manliest tears ever to have been shed.

Edmund S. Muskie-March 4, 1972

Heading into the New Hampshire primary, Senator Edmund S. Muskie was considered the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Publisher William Loeb had been printing editorial attacks on Muskie in Manchester’s Union Leader newspaper, one of which impugned the character of Muskie’s wife. The paper also printed what became known as the “Canuck Letter” which accused Muskie of a bias toward Americans of French-Canadian descent. Muskie called a press conference to respond to the attacks. As he vehemently defended his wife, Muskie’s speech broke three times as he rubbed his face and tried to regain his composure. Pictures of his anguished expression were splashed about in the media. Muskie claimed that he never cried and that the multitude of “tears” on his face were from melting snow. Regardless, voters found his emotional outburst off-putting, and Muskie’s political fortunes never recovered; he eventually lost the nomination to George McGovern. Later it was revealed that Muskie was almost certainly a victim of one of Nixon’s “dirty tricks.” The Canuck Letter turned out to be a fabrication written by a Nixon staff member intent on discrediting a man who had put the president’s reelection in jeopardy.

John Stewart-September 20, 2001

After 9/11, many newscasters and media personalities had an understandably difficult time keeping their composure, and comedy programs faced the additional challenge of continuing on during such a somber time. As media personalities remarked on the devastation and shock of that day, many revealed a very human side of themselves. Few such commentaries came off as authentic and heartfelt as John Stewart’s on the day the Daily Show recommenced. Watching his remarks now, one can vividly remember the way 9/11 felt like a horrendous punch in the gut. Deeply affected and choking up many times throughout his remarks , Stewart came off as a class act and as a man who truly loves his country.

Dick Vermeil-1999

Dick Vermeil was a football coach known for wearing his heart on his sleeve. He cried all the time: at press conferences, during speeches, when he cut a player, when he traded a player, when his team lost, when his team won. Yet his crying was never born of selfishness or a woe is me attitude. He cried because he loved the game and he loved his players. “If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting,” Vermeil once said. One of his finest cries came after Ram’s quarterback Trent Green was injured. Vermeil had ended a 14 year retirement to return and coach the Rams. Their first two seasons had been an embarrassing wash. And things seemed to take a turn for the worse when Green was sidelined at the beginning of the 99′ season. Yet Vermeil didn’t cry for himself and the heat his career would continue to face; he cried for Green, knowing how hard the man had worked and how badly it would feel to have it taken away. Vermeil next cried when his back-up quarterback, the then unknown Kurt Warner, won his first game as a starter. Vermeil’s eyes seldom remained dry that season, as the Rams went on to win the Superbowl.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin (ReturnToManliness) June 22, 2008 at 10:40 pm

This is a great post. A great follow up to your previous post.

A couple of other good ones that deserve mention from movies. I know not real, but they ought a been…
Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.
Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter
Jim Carey in The Truman Show
Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List

The dishonorable list is not complete without something from either Jim or Tammy Fae Baker. Another one that should get mentioned is Kobe Bryant after getting caught cheating on his wife.

2 Shatt June 23, 2008 at 12:53 am

So wait, how was Nixon’s cry dishonorable? Seems to me he thought his career in politics was over over the incident, which would explain and approve the cry as alright, if not exactly “approved”.

Also, right on with the John Stewart speech. I remember watching it when it first broadcast and breaking out with a HUGE smile as he relayed the change of scenery from his window.

3 Snead June 23, 2008 at 6:06 am

What?! Brett Favre but no Lance Armstrong or Troy Aikman? You’ve GOT to be kidding! Favre cried at the end of the season for like four years. And Aikman didn’t even get to decide when he wanted to retire, it was retire or die for him.

4 Brett June 23, 2008 at 6:21 am

@Shatt-

It seems to me that Nixon was using his getting choked up as a rhetorical device. The whole speech is carefully constructed to produce sympathy and is quite smooth, although admittedly effective. Also his crying after the speech seems to be a cry of frustration; men shouldn’t cry just because they think they did a bad job. Nixon was notorious for deeply caring what other people thought of him, to a fault. I think he cried because he was worried that people didn’t like him anymore. Finally, Nixon thought everyone was out to get him-he blamed the accusation on a conspiracy of liberals and commies to take him down. Crying because of a woe is me attitude is not manly.

5 Brett June 23, 2008 at 6:26 am

@Snead-

Aikman is a good addition. I don’t remember Armstrong crying. Even if he did, I’m not a fan of the guy. Extraordinary athlete but kind of a d-bag.

6 Max Laird June 23, 2008 at 8:07 am

May I add one for the Dishonorable Mentions?

Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky crying at the news conference when the Reds fired Jerry Narron.

http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/02849Oueg2eUv/610x.jpg

7 dadshouse June 23, 2008 at 8:39 am

Cal Ripken? Come on! He didn’t go out like Lou Gehrig. Ripken’s cry comes from a girly place. He’ll no longer have all those adoring, fawning fans. He shouldn’t be on this list.

I’m a single dad, and as manly as my breed is, having your kids not be with you on certain occasions can bring a torrent of tears. Of course, you just suck it up and don’t let anyone see. That’s the manly thing to do…

8 Hayden Tompkins June 23, 2008 at 8:54 am

I can’t believe I missed the John Stewart post-9/11 show. Thank you for posting it…it was pretty incredible about what this country means.

9 Snead June 23, 2008 at 11:26 am

The Armstrong tears fell during his press conference when he talked about his cancer and how he was determined to beat it. I think Nike turned it into a commercial. And I agree about him, but that was pre-douchiness. Or at least pre-our-knowledge-of-his-douchiness.

10 Brett June 23, 2008 at 12:13 pm

@Snead-

Yeah, that’s admittedly a really good man cry. Too bad he didn’t fight off the douchiness the way he battled cancer.

11 John June 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Uh… not to be a total douchebag but shouldn’t it be ’15 Great Men WHO Cried’, not ‘THAT Cried’?

Personally I don’t give a damn but there are some grammar nazis who will…..

12 Brett June 23, 2008 at 3:13 pm

@Brett-

Sorry John, I’m not following you. The only reference I see to “that cried” is in your comment.

13 Algernon June 23, 2008 at 3:41 pm

How about Alexander the Great?

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer” -Plutarch

You’ve gotta love a man who conquered most of the known world before dying at age 33.

14 Brett June 23, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Fantastic addition, Algernon.

15 derek June 23, 2008 at 5:40 pm

It seems like we could come up with a list less weighted to sports, tv, and politics. I know those are more likely to be caught by a journalist or camera, but maybe the title could have been “The 15 Greatest Man Cries By A Public Figure”?

My Short List:
1. Crying with my dad. A real heart-to-heart conversation with my father after 30 years of trying to live up to his expectations (expectations that he knew nothing about – they were in my head), and him trying to gain my acceptance (that I knew nothing about).
2. An AHA! moment. At a time when it seemed like everyone was looking to me to provide guidance and direction, I realized my ultimate nightmare: I had no answers. I lost it completely for a couple of minutes. Seemed like forever. When I looked up, I was filled with a calmness that could move mountains. And I gained a lot of respect from my community.
3. Missing my kids. After our separation, all I wanted was to wake up with the kids and to be able to tuck them into bed and to tickle them silly. My son was just learning to crawl and changing faster every day. I wanted to see them every day, but the agreement was for much less time.
4. Relates to 2, something out of my control. Looking into my wife’s eyes as we held our lifeless son, thinking that I could be the rock for her, and knowing that I was in way over my head. I couldn’t fix her.

We all have these moments, we just don’t always have the words.

Thanks for a good read.

16 John June 23, 2008 at 9:12 pm

# Brett on June 23rd, 2008 3:13 pm

@Brett-

Check the title bar of the page.

17 Logan June 23, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Edmund Muskie honorable and Richard Nixon dishonorable? The only difference between the two speeches is that Nixon rose up from his and Muskie succumbed to failure.

Concerning Nixon, the funds were 100% legal as deemed by and independent audit firm. Nothing was done wrong. The accusation was a “dirty trick” (literally this time) by the Adlai Stevenson campaign. Further it was revealed that Adali had a similar fund, only his was not legal. However the Eisenhower camp was searching for fire to get Nixon off the ticket. Ike used Adlai’s lies as leverage and allowed Nixon to use the limited TV time slot to give his resignation. Instead Nixon went directly to the American people and spoke as eloquent and genuine as any man. He defied all odds and walked away with a small victory.

“The Crying Speech� holds nothing on the Checkers speech and Canuck Letter is speculated to be a product of the Nixon camp, far from a fact.

Brett I love what you are doing with the Art of Manliness but you really let us down here. I don’t think you followed-up with the needed research before you dishonor a United States President and triumph a loser who found solstice only in the Carter Administration.

PS. despite your accusation, Nixon refrained from “choking up� during the broadcast.

18 Brett June 23, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Sorry Logan, but my piece couldn’t possibly dishonor Nixon more than he dishonored himself. Muskie got choked up because he was defending his wife. This to me is honorable. Nixon sobbed because he thought he didn’t do a good job on his speech. This is not manly. The fact that Nixon would cry about being accused of something that would pale in comparison to the actual crimes he would commit later puts him firmly in the dishonorable section. He’s a hypocrite of the highest order.

And yes Nixon did get a bit choked up there. Not very much, but there’s certainly emotion in his voice.

19 Brett June 23, 2008 at 10:34 pm

PS-Now that I’ve checked out your website, I see there’s no chance we’re going to see eye to eye here.

20 Kevin June 23, 2008 at 11:25 pm

I wish you would have gone with Pete Sampras when he played Courier in the quarters of the 95 aussie open. His coach had just flown back to the states with a brain tumor and pete played through tears after fighting back from being down two sets to none. And the match had such legendary moments as when a fan yelled “Do it for your coach” or when Courier asked Sampras “You feeling all right Pete? We can do this tomorrow you know.” And Pete answered with a huge ace. It is probably the most memorable match of his career and well worthy of this list.

I appreciate everything Agassi has done for the game but I think there is much more honor in fighting through tears and overcoming adversity rather than tears from reflection.

21 Charlie Kondek June 24, 2008 at 5:05 am

Fantastic story. This could easily be one of the great bar-room conversations of all time.

22 Roomba June 24, 2008 at 5:05 am

Great post. We need more men like Eisenhower, Washington and Lincoln.

Since we’re all tossing in various honorable mentions, I thought I’d mention a biblical fave from the story of Lazarus. Christ wept just prior to his friend’s resurrection from the tomb. (John 11:35.). Very deep.

23 Brett June 24, 2008 at 7:40 am

@Roomba-

Christ’s crying over Lazarus is a really an interesting cry. Christ knows he can raise him from the dead and does so later on, yet he still weeps. Deep for sure.

24 manbearpig June 24, 2008 at 11:13 am

Christ cried over the tomb of Lazarus because he was human. I suspect that even though he knew that he could and would raise him from the dead, he was feeling the emotions of those around him. I know from personal experience that it is easy to get choked up when you are around other people that are showing grief. I think it was an example of his humaness.

25 Willbert June 24, 2008 at 3:54 pm

I’m with Tom – “There’s no cyring in baseball.” Seriously, I like the article and your choice of man-cries. Glad you picked real events and not fake scenes from movies. There is enough fake stuff in today’s society.

26 Grumbles June 24, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I know it is controversial, but I would have put Bush’s reaction to 9-11. Say what you will about the man, but he felt what alot of us felt. If both Letterman and Stewart made it, I would have Bush there as well. Of course, this ignores those who I am sure believe Bush arranged it, but whatever.

27 Basil Moss June 27, 2008 at 10:27 am

It seems to me the gist of this article that it is generally not manly to cry at all, and when one does, it’s best to get “choked up” and be seen to be suppressing it, despite the huge emotional cause. I don’t think that this is either manly or healthy. I respect any man who expresses his feelings freely, and who is not so overconcerned with others perception of his “manliness” as to go about suppressing his feelings. It has been my experience that those who cry freely whenever they are sad are more able to cry when they need to. It brings a healthy release from feelings that can do us no good bottled up inside. In fact physiologically, it is the only way stress hormones can leave the body without first being metabolised by the liver. I’ve known someone who does not cry because men don’t, and I’ve seen them unable to shed a tear over the deaths of their parents, because they are so unused to expressing feelings in this way. This is not healthy or manly.
Basically I’m saying bollocks to “man cries” and “man hugs” for that matter- manly men don’t need to worry about expressing their feelings in some limited social structure that basically stunts ones emotional expression.

28 Luke Moritz June 27, 2008 at 6:45 pm

With sports mentions, I would have added Wayne Gretzky’s farewell press conference when he was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the LA Kings. That, to a Canadian, is one of the most emotion-filled sports cries ever.

29 Logan June 28, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Show me a man who hasn’t made some mistakes and I’ll show you a loser.

On a more serious note, Brett, if you ever mention Nixon again, I’d be honored to fact check or provide you with a background on the man or any Nixon situation you’re covering.

I’m not a Nixon apologist, just a man with the facts.

30 reid July 2, 2008 at 10:12 am

honorable mention: me (while reading this and watching videos).

31 Michael July 5, 2008 at 5:24 am

You left out Apollo flight director Gene Kranz’ allowing the tears to flow after the safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts.

32 Will Grigg July 5, 2008 at 6:01 am

Letterman’s remarks were stunning and powerful. They illustrate something I’ve long believed: Genuine eloquence, as opposed to grandiloquence, is a product of sincerity. His words may not read like much when reduced to print, but when spoken live they were infused with a palpable passion that left the listener deeply moved.

33 Will Grigg July 5, 2008 at 6:15 am

Jon Stewart is a national treasure and a genuine patriot.

Incidentally, as far as manly cinematic weeping is concerned, how about the choked, stifled sob heard from Admiral James T. Kirk at the funeral of his best friend, Capt. Spock, at the end of “Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan”?

Kirk had a crying scene in the following movie following the murder of his son. That one may have been even better, because it ended with an oblique but unmistakable — and quickly fulfilled — promise to kill the enemy responsible. I swear, the moment he told that enemy “I’m looking forward to meeting you,” everybody in the theater said, “Oh, boy — that guy’s as good as dead.”

34 tully monster July 8, 2008 at 9:30 am

Didn’t Nixon cry when he resigned? I’m surprised that didn’t make your list anywhere. It’s one of my earliest, most coherent memories–as a very small girl, it shocked me to see a picture of a man crying on the front page of the daily paper. I was three or four, far too young to be aware of current events, no matter how politically cataclysmic, and didn’t realize until later what the context was.

As for the Checkers speech–the whole thing was a (successful) attempt to manipulate the audience, and so it’s hard to have any sympathy for the man there. I’m actually more inclined to feel sorry for him during the second instance–I imagine he must have felt a good deal of remorse and regret then.

35 Joe July 8, 2008 at 10:54 pm

As badass as this site is in general there are some problems, the pros and cons associated with old time manliness. It should be noted that Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus. It was much like the Roman Dictators but still it may have been misused in some cases.

To the whole Jesus having manly tears is silly. All the men listed here have a very factual, real basis. 90 percent of the bible is exaggerated story telling. This is not saying that it is bad, that is not my case right now, my case is that Jesus cannot be manly in this sense. He is too different a character from all other men to be manly. Odysseus was a badass though fictional, he cried in the Odyssey, and he was much more human than Jesus yet still he doesn’t have a place on this list.

Oh and Stalin should get some mention for when he cried when Churchill presented him the Sword of Stalingrad. Its funny, its true he was a coward and such but the romanticism that was placed around him and the October Revolution has made another fictional thing so cool. It leads me to believe that manliness is a concept and will never actually be in existence, like communism it will be striven for but never accomplished perfectly except in stories.

36 Joe July 8, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Forgot something: Oedipus Rex. Any takers?

37 DoomRater July 12, 2008 at 10:05 pm

Anyone want to mention Gabe Ruediger for a dishonorable exception to crying? Guy bawww’d on TV because of his inability to make weight, despite doing very little on his part to make weight. we’re talking about trying to enema weight out of himself without exercise.

38 Clay Collins | The Growing Life July 14, 2008 at 2:25 am

That was powerful. The piece from John Stewart really moved me. A lot. Thanks for sharing that.

39 Error July 18, 2008 at 2:06 am

Excuse me, Brett. You spelled “Jon Stewart” with an ‘h’. Thank you.

40 Francis July 24, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Potential dishonorable? Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch cried on the sidelines during a game.

41 Martin Schilling July 26, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Whatever Michael Jordan announcing his retirement early due to his Father’s murder? Did that even happen, I seem to have a memory of that.

42 Gerry August 15, 2008 at 6:21 am

What a cool site and great topic. I think the mix is perfect – most recently would say Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

43 Dave Walters September 21, 2008 at 11:44 pm

For a variety of reasons (mostly very suspect tax charges) Joe Louis was forced to fight for far longer than he should’ve.

In his final bout, he was KO’d by Rocky Marciano.
Marciano used to listen to Louis bouts on the radio as a young boy.
He was so distraught at ‘having’ to beat his hero that he is said to have wept in his dressing room.

An honourable mention in my book.

44 Dennis October 1, 2008 at 10:09 pm

I think that one of the times when a great man and a great number of men cried was at the 1993 ESPY’s during Jimmy V’s speech. You can see the video here. It is one of the finest examples of manhood I can point someone to these days.

You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePXlkqkFH6s and I highly recommend that you do.

45 Desi October 3, 2008 at 1:40 am

Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List, definitely needed to be here.

46 Oyaji March 19, 2009 at 5:44 am

It takes a big man to cry. But, it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man when he’s crying.

47 Chris April 5, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Interesting analysis on Tom Coburn. Sure, being a politician, his tears were very suspect. But his reaction to Rachel Carson and his views on abortionists were spot on. Why should we honor a lesbian? A man isn’t a real man if he’s having ‘sex’ with another man and woman isn’t a woman if she’s having perverted ‘sex’ with another woman.

Why shouldn’t a doctor who is killing the most innocent among us receive the death penalty? A man who takes the life of an innocent adult deserves death and that is exactly what an abortionist deserves.

48 Andrew July 31, 2010 at 6:16 am

@ Brett couldn’t agree more with you about Armstrong

@ Joe Lincoln was not the only president to suspend habeas corpus

Oscar Schindler should receive mention for crying when overcome with guilt for not selling more of his possessions to save more lives during the holocaust. Truly the ultimate philanthropist.

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