Tom Brady's sleepless nights, Michael Jordan's tears are reminders of the need for vulnerability

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Columnist
Yahoo Sports

It has been 30 days since Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his daughter Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash

On Monday there was a beautiful, poignant and at times lighthearted celebration of life for the Los Angeles Lakers legend and Gianna, but for many it still doesn’t quite seem real, the fact that a beloved basketball star has been taken just as he was starting to show the world that his post-playing career might have been as great as his on-court one.

We’ve also learned in the weeks since Bryant’s death that he wasn’t just an inspiration to young boys and girls with dreams of playing professional basketball — his Mamba Mentality and work ethic, his love of being a #GirlDad and insatiable curiosity influenced other highly successful athletes and celebrities.

If there’s a silver lining at all in Bryant’s death it has been those people grieving publicly, of being allowed to see our heroes show vulnerability.

The most recent example came on Tuesday, when Tom Brady, two years Bryant’s senior and the most successful NFL quarterback in league history, poured out his heart on social media.

In a five-paragraph essay that he posted on Instagram and Twitter, Brady said he’s been “deeply affected” by the deaths of Kobe, Gigi and the others on the helicopter: pilot Ara Zobayan, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, John Altobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli.

“In this tragedy, I have learned so much. Why has this touched me in the way that it did? Why has it kept me up at night, and brought me so many tears,” he wrote, in part.

“In Kobe, we were able to witness the man in the arena. For many of us, sports show what we are made of, they define our personalities and emotions. We cannot hide from the good or the bad, from the wins and the losses ... the joy and despair, the happiness and the pain.

“ ... Now who is going to do the work that is still here to be done? Who is going to fight and break the norms with love and joy and inspiration? Who is going to discard fear, and doubt, and hate? Who is going to carry the load and be the superhero that he was. The answer is simple to me, ALL OF US.”

The reflective, emotional post from Brady was something of a surprise: since the first days of the saga that was Deflate-gate, he’s largely withdrawn with media, only talking when league rules require or he’s paid to, as with his weekly Westwood One chat with Jim Gray. He once made himself available in the locker room for casual conversation or a specific one-on-one question, and that has all but ended.

Brady is open about his love of his wife and children and family on social media, but those posts are on his terms, as was the Facebook documentary “Tom vs. Time” that debuted two years ago. 

But this is different.

Brady admitted that he’s more than sad about the loss of a fellow star athlete; he’s grieving the death of a friend, crying and losing sleep.

Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady at a 2010 NBA Finals game in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady at a 2010 NBA Finals game in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

MJ and LeBron share their grief

During the celebration of life, Michael Jordan, who wasn’t exactly known for being warm and fuzzy or self-deprecating during much of his unparalleled NBA career, was both as he remembered Bryant onstage at the Staples Center. He openly wept as he remembered Kobe, whom he called his “little brother,” the man who made him want to be a better big brother, he said. And Jordan even joked that the image of his tears would become another Crying Jordan meme.

For Kobe, though, it was OK. Jordan sniffled, and brushed at his tears with his hand before getting a tissue.

When Kobe’s death was still so raw, LeBron James posted on Instagram, saying right from the outset that he wasn’t really ready to talk; one wonders if he felt he had to say something because of fans’ demands on social media.

“WTF!!,” James wrote in part. “I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! Man I love you big bro.”

For far too long, there was a belief that men shouldn’t show tenderness and outward love, particularly to other men; boys who cried were called “sissies,” and hugs had to have a weird one-armed approach of semi-affection. 

That has been doubly so for men in the athletic arena, where words like “battle” and “trenches” were used unironically to discuss games.

These stereotypes are slowly going by the wayside, as more and more athletes have been open to declare their love for those outside of their partners and parents and children — their teammates, competitors and friends — and without the childish and cringeworthy “no homo” addendum. That it’s OK to say you love someone as a human being, without romantic love being assumed.

In Jordan’s tears and words, in Brady’s letter we see more of this too: that it’s OK, even healthy, to cry, to bare one’s heart and be vulnerable, to “break the norms with love and joy and inspiration.”

May Jordan and Brady, standard-bearers for their respective sports, become standard-bearers for this new approach, the approval from titans that it’s OK to be mortals, even if the world is watching.

More from Yahoo Sports:

What to Read Next