Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas Fights Emotions Between Tragedy And Euphoria In Public Eye
The NBA is no stranger to public commentary, social protest, and social stigma. After all, name the social cause and you can bet the NBA has some activism. The NBA, more than any other American professional sport, is comprised of the most international of audiences and participants. Beyond that, it’s the diversity that has propelled the NBA to the forefront of social causes.
Washington Huskies Alumni Isaiah Thomas learned of the tragic death of his sister, Chyna Thomas. She died in a one car accident on I-5 Federal Way on April 15, 2017 at approximately 5:00 a.m. The next day, Thomas played in the first 2017 NBA playoff game for the Boston Celtics.
So it’s disappointing to me to see the mixed reactions of the NBA. There is the rousing amount of sympathy and support for the man inside the player. And that is warm and welcome in professional athleticism.
While simultaneously dealing with euphoria of landing with his team in the playoffs. Once more, that again is worth promoting. In fact, the Boston Celtics had a great season, led by University of Washington Huskies Alumni Isaiah Thomas.
The Double Standard
But there is far more to discuss here. There is that double standard, that social stigma of a man grieving. On one hand, in the modern age where we tear down walls of social injustice, promote equal opportunity, and march to defend the rights of all, men must face tragedy and loss while stranded upon an island. On the other hand, a man cannot grieve over the death of a loved one in public.
Charles Barkley is an outspoken broadcaster, and oftentimes he sits at the cutting edge of social debate. But his commentary here was more representative of the mainstream masses than social revolutionaries.
In summary, the call upon a man to “hold it in” or “play through the grief” is an absurd and antiquated standard of long ago.
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Be A Man Means Be Stoic?
Somehow, one of the defining features of “being a man” is toughing it out. Stoically holding in the emotions of the moment in a quest to focus on the task at hand. That sentiment is captured beautifully in the quote of teammate Gerald Green in an article written by Sports Illustrated’s John Wertheim.
"“The fact that he’s here,” Gerald Green said before the game, blinking back tears, “shows what kind of man he is.” – Gerald Green, as reported by Sports Illustrated John Wertheim"
And there’s the rub. The quality of Isaiah Thomas professionalism somehow is permanently linked to how he handled the loss of his beloved sister. An excellent expose on the matter was crafted by Will Leitch and his article on SportsOnEarth.com. In his article, Leitch describes the event as:
"“his private pain became fodder for our public consumption. You think you’re ready; (somehow) you tell yourself you are ready; you hope this will even be good for you, therapeutic, cathartic — but you’re not alone out there. Your therapy becomes our therapy. The minute he stepped onto the practice floor, cameras trained on him, catching him breaking down on the sideline, sobbing into his teammates’ shoulder. But that’s just the start of it.”"
How Evolved Are We?
His description places this all into perspective. On one hand, the definition of a man’s athletic professionalism is characterized by how “in check” he can keep his emotions. On the other hand, this contest evolved from simply a playoff game into a national audience consuming each and every moment of a grieving man’s attempt to press on through the pain.
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We sympathize to a point. We pour our hearts out to the young man whose life is in utter chaos, as long as he steps onto the basketball court. We’re all behind him, as long as he can shoot, score, assist, and rebound. The quality of the “man” depends upon so many things in professional sports.
Much like the rubber neckers who slow down at the accident scene to witness a tragedy in the lives of others, much of the drama in Chicago Bulls versus Boston Celtics contest became viewers focusing on Isaiah Thomas alone.
Neither Stiff Drink Nor Stiff Upper Lip Is Healthy
Now for the real news. Keeping a “stiff upper lip” is very unhealthy for humans. The tragedy that impacted Isaiah Thomas’ life came in two parts. First, in the untimely death of his beloved sister. Secondly, in the fact that he believed he had an obligation to show up and perform as though nothing had happened in his life.
Society is exposing plenty of inequality. But its the devalued worth of a man’s life and quality of life that resists social commentary. Men are still struggling in many walks of life to fight against the generations of history of “bread winner”. Some men want to rear their children. Other men prefer a less traditional role in a family structure. Still other men simply need a good cry.
Men discover that it’s not about what’s healthy, or what’s “right”, but often what’s “expected” that establishes the social mores. And unless brave folks challenge that standard, it will never change. Society now expects a man must be more “in-tuned” to his emotions. To accomplish this, that same society must eliminate the novelty of a grieving man struggling over the loss of a loved one.
After all, men need to have healthy options. Right now, that healthy option does not exist. If we do not strive to create that option, men are locked into this vicious cycle for generations to come.