By V. Williams | Invisible Victims Guest Contributor *
Junior Seau is dead. Excuse me, let me reissue that statement for those who may have forgotten, JUNIOR SEAU IS DEAD! Dead! Junior Seau! It’s been more than two months since his death, and just the other day it was announced his family will donate ‘some of his brain tissue to research,’ to help further the studies of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Having heard that, now more than ever I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Junior is no longer with us. Not right now I can’t. Not now; maybe not ever.
I knew Junior Seau. Both Junior Seau the legend, and Junior Seau the man, although it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began. They blended to near perfection. Seau the legend is as special a football player, as Seau the man is as special a friend to everyone he meets. Damn! I’m sorry. I meant to say, ‘was as special a friend to everyone he met.’ I still struggle with word tense when talking about Junior. Like everyone else, I thought Junior was invincible. I just can’t believe he’s gone. But he is. He’s gone…and they say by his own hand. What the hell went wrong?
When I got the first call informing me Junior had died, I was a passenger in a car cruising down the highway, taking in the majestic scenery of the Smoky Mountains. Just a few seconds before the call came in, I was looking at the fog and mist settling above the tree tops, finally realizing what inspired the hazy forename of the famous mountain range (since childhood I believed it had something to do with Smoky the Bear). The caller, a good friend of mine, wasn’t sure how well I knew Junior; she just knew I knew him. With profound disbelief, and a wisp of modern-day, reality-show realism/sensationalism, she gave me the news, “Did you hear about Junior Seau?” But before I could answer, she gave me the news anyways. “He died. I mean…he’s dead. He killed himself. Can you believe it?” No, I hadn’t heard; no, I couldn’t believe it. Junior killed himself?!
I sat there quietly for a second or two. Was this a (cruel) practical joke, or maybe an internet hoax she may have come across. Perhaps it was April Fools day. I quickly ruled out the latter, but I was hoping one of the other two options was still in play. Unfortunately, neither happened to be. When my friend said she just saw it on CNN, the sadness set in. I knew it was true. She could have gotten fooled by an internet hoax, but she wasn’t the type to lie about seeing it on CNN. After briefly discussing the few sketchy details she knew, we hung up, and I immediately called my brother and a few of my friends to tell them the news, taking special care to ensure there was no reality show in my voice. My brother and friends were as shocked as I was, and obviously felt the same sense of sadness I felt. We instictively began to reflect. Almost immediately we set upon a quick trip down memory lane as we cut loose a steady flow of stories recalling Juniors’ specialness. When I finally got off the phone, the driver and I sat in silence for a few miles, while she consciously and respectfully, gave me time to privately digest the horrible news. It was at least 30 minutes between the time the initial call came in, and the moment the driver and I resumed conversing. Admittedly, it was a one way conversation. I ranted about Junior for the next hour or so, sharing several yarns about what made him special. And, believe me, he was special. But now he’s gone…by his own hand. What the hell went wrong?
I don’t know exactly what went wrong. I’m not sure if anyone does. But that hasn’t stopped every talking head from feeding the public a slew of easy-as-pie solutions for what Junior (and every other man) could have done, to prevent the same heartbreaking denouement. And, it seems, every solution offered by these talking heads is quickly gobbled by the public as fact, because, as we all know, if someone on TV says it’s true, then it has to be true. The most tantalizing suicide prevention morsel of truth which wafted through the mediasphere incessantly for a few weeks, was the one claiming, if men open up about their problems, there is help on the horizon, and everything will be okay. Because, in theory, in the solutions found in those books filled with mostly-corny inspirational quotes, or biblical verses, as well as those talk shows delivering a bunch of it’s-just-that-easy solutions, that simple ‘just open up about your problems’ solution sounds…well…simple. So simple that we usually find ourselves nodding our heads in agreement.
** That ‘just tell someone’ solution is offered here by NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin (at 2:17), but he follows it up admirably with a call for people to actually listen. Bravo Michael!
But if you’re the type of person who tends to look at reality, rather than listen to tiresome talking points from the babbling, bubblehead ‘experts’ who flood the airwaves with their simplistic violence-prevention methods, you will notice two things: 1) Though society frowns upon it, plenty of men do tell people of their crisis’s; 2) Once men do tell someone, they are often flat out ignored, or shamed into rescinding their call for help (or complaint as others see it). Society just doesn’t want to hear about the problems of men. Men should never complain; never show pain. Complaining, from men, is bad. Very bad. It’s so bad it is often labeled as feminine, almost gay, if you will. And as we all know, in the macho-male world, gay is the worst possible label you can bestow on a guy.
Throughout history, the world has bred such a hatred for the LGBT community that many men would, unfortunately and shamefully, probably rather be dead than be thought of as gay. Despicably, it is not uncommon for men to say they would prefer their son be dead rather than gay. Then you constantly have religion members calling for death penalties for gays, while turning a blind eye to the atrocious behavior often displayed within religion. Kansas pastor Charles Knapp says “(Gays) should be put to death” by the government. North Carolina pastor Charles Worley boldly claims gays should be rounded up, quarantined behind an electrified fence, and kept there until they “die out.” Yet I’ve never heard either of these pastors come out emphatically against the centuries of well-document child molestation within their religions, and the well-orchestrated cover ups which allowed it persist. It’s a wonder why every hot blooded, macho male, doesn’t run screaming from the gay label. Even more unfortunate, and more shameful, is that society has let everything that’s not traditionally-hardcore masculine, morph into being called ‘gay.’ Not only has this morphing ignored the degradation and offensiveness to the LGBT community, which sees men fighting tooth and nail to escape the assumed grotesqueness of being ‘like them,’ but it also has prevented many men from dutifully pursuing their right to feel pain, or sadness, or despair, or fear, or empathy, or all other feelings and emotions from which males have purposely disassociated themselves. Instead, as they struggle with their ability to show vulnerability, men have beholden themselves to a single, oft crippling and destructive, phrase — ‘Man up!’
It’s easy to see, many males have sorrowfully succumbed to, what should be nothing more than a meaningless phrase. Some have actually taken Man Up! as a directive, or a misguided challenge. The critical question is, will men be able to escape the gravitational pull of the phrase, before it drags them into the fire? Or will the need to Man Up! muffle them, and force them to bottle up our serious concerns, until they wind up with guns in their hands, propped to their heads…or in the case of former NFL players, their chests. I hope not. Being men, they must learn to never stymie their need to cry out for help, even when people pretend not to hear their cries, or belittle them for doing so. Learning this may often be a matter of life or death, which brings us to Serena Williams and her recent ridicule and emasculation of some of the top male tennis players on the WTA tour. I always find it shocking; the things men can be ridiculed for these days. Who would have thought condemnation could be sparked from something as simple (but nuanced) as tennis-court safety? That’s right, tennis-court safety. Hardly a major issue in terms of world events, but hardly a minor issue in the world of tennis.
Recently, when top players Novak Djokivic, Rafael Nadal, and several others, expressed serious concerns about the new, blue clay courts at the Madrid Open, claiming the new surface was ‘slippery and dangerous,’ Ms. Williams curiosly decided to emasculate the men by going on a bizarre diatribe about the deficiency of men, and the supremacy of women,
“Women are way tougher than men. That’s why we have the babies. You guys could never handle kids. We ladies don’t complain, we just do our best. On the WTA we are real performers; we are not going out there and being weenies.”
I found her statement very disturbing. I had always been a big Serena fan…and I still am, I admit. But I was disappointed with her. Disappointed because Serena’s statement was a way of telling the guys to Man Up! And that’s an odd statement for a woman who is consistently criticized for ‘looking, and playing tennis, like a man.’ The statement also does something else that should sound the alarms worldwide. With her insistence, “You guys could never handle kids,” Ms. Williams pushes a corrosive and reprehensible ideology that has become all to common these days — women are better parents than are men. (Notice she skillfully chose the words ‘…never handle kids’ rather than the words ‘…never handle childbirth’)
When I first read her full statement, the first thing that jumped out was, “We ladies don’t complain..” No, actually that was the second thing that jumped out. The first was, when the hell did Serena have a baby? I must of missed that story. She is so tough, she probably had one between sets during her championship match against Victoria Azarenka, in the Madrid. But seriously Serena, ladies don’t complain? Really? Maybe you’ve been traveling and playing tennis so much that you haven’t had time to turn on the telly. Nearly every show, especially most segments of every daytime talk show, features a female who is screwed up, not because of what she did to her self, but because of what some guy did to her. Because some male wasn’t interested in her, her self esteem was crushed; because he was too interested in her, she feared for her safety; because he called her chubby, she starved herself into anorexia; because he broke up with her, she got out the razor blades and started cutting herself; because he, a married man, was seeing several women besides her, she, a mistress (JJ), was emotionally distressed, so she designates herself a victim, grabs a ‘victims rights‘ attorney, and sues the married man seeking a huge sum of money. Do those issues (i.e. complaints) warrant serious attention? The psychiatric field says they do, so we give them the serious attention they require (well, all of them except the mistress issue). But the idea that men complain but ‘ladies don’t complain’ is so absurd, it’s not even worth further discussion right now. What is worth discussing is why Ms. Williams chose to bring gender into the discussion in the first place?
What is weenie-ish about professional athletes, who make their livings off their bodies, striving to assure the safest conditions possible to help prevent injuries to their bodies? Keep in mind, the court surface wasn’t changed from red to blue with the players safety in mind; it was done for fan viewing purposes. The yellow tennis ball supposedly shows up better against the blue court than it does the red. So screw player safety, as long as the fans can see the ball better. Well, that shouldn’t, and didn’t, sit well with the players. In sports, as with most other things, safety is paramount. Mr. Nadal is arguably one of the, if not the, greatest clay court player in the history of the game. Wouldn’t he be considered a good critic of that particular playing surface? I would consider him an absolute expert.
“They are claiming that the court is exactly the same as red clay, which is not true because there is a big difference. You are tripping, slipping all the time, sliding. The winner will be the one who doesn’t get hurt by the end of the week.”
That’s a very definitive statement by a clay-court specialist. And as we all know, Mr. Djokovic, the #2 ranked player in the world, is also no slouch when it comes to qualifying a court’s playing surface.
“To me that’s not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court,” Djokovic told the AP. He went on to say, “When you slide on the red clay you have a feeling you can stop and recover from that step. But here, whatever you do … you are always slipping.”
For the life of me, I still can’t find the weenie-ness in the two tennis greats statements. And I still can’t determine what prompted the, “That’s why we have the babies” quip. Ms. Williams, I assure you, the male players weren’t questioning whether you have ovaries, and Fallopian tubes, and everything else with which women are equipped for the purposes of bearing children. The guys were talking tennis-courts safety. That’s it. Just tennis-court safety. If NBA players were to complain about a slippery basketball court, would they be wimps? How about NFL players complaining about unsafe field conditions? Would it be illogical to listen to their ‘complaints?’ And Serena, did you ever stop to think that the male tennis players are moving at a higher speed, and making harder, more explosive cuts, with greater torque and force per inch, than you and the other gals out there, which may account for the difference in slippage rates? Maybe the new, supposedly revolutionary, tennis court surface, is adequate for the minimal, feeble, girlish, badmintonesque force exerted by women, but can’t hold up under the power of the real tennis played by men. Boy, that didn’t sound too good, did it? Sounded a little sexist, right? It was sexist. Even though I was joking (I actually love women’s tennis), it was still far less sexist and chauvinistic than Serena’s statement. But we’ll deal with the sexism and chauvinism in another post. For now let’s stick with men’s rights to express concern for what ails them.
Where was the outrage at Serena’s statement? (Especially in light of everyone encouraging men to speak out about their problems since Junior Seau’s death). Serena’s statement should have been universally panned, and she should have received far more condemnation for this issue, than she did for berating a tennis official in the middle of a tennis match. But no, nothing was said about it, other than a few quips about how cute and funny the statement was. The ramifications, however, may not be that cute, or that funny. After hearing Ms. Williams essentially mock all men; and after listening to the media making light of it, thus endorsing it, many more men may choose to just shut their mouths, keep their pain and despair to themselves, and then remedy it with drastic, sometimes deadly, measures. You know they old saying, “Death before dishonor.” Hopefully, as we listen to the experts preach to men about letting their guards down, and seeking help, they will also preach to everyone else to give men the room to do so, and the attention and support they need. Ms. Williams’ statement (May 13, 2012) came just 11 days after Mr. Seau’s death (May 2, 2012), and directly in the middle of the post-death flurry of the psychiatric ‘call to arms’ for men.
For nearly two decades in the NFL, Junior Seau played linebacker, one of the most punishing positions in all of sports. And it is reported that he never had a concussion in all those games played. For anyone who has ever strapped on a pair of cleats and a helmet, and banged heads with the boys at any level of play, from little league on, you realize it is virtually impossible that Junior achieved such a feat. It would have been impossible for a punisher like Junior to make it through one season, much less 20 seasons, without sustaining a concussion. Maybe he denied concussions because he and Serena were good friends, and she convinced him how weenie-ish it would be to claim a concussion, or to seek help, or to express concern about issues he may have had. How’s that theory? Maybe? Maybe not? Whatever else happened in Juniors’ life, he could never bring himself to admit suffering concussions while he was in the NFL, and obviously his teams were content to let it slide. Pain = feminine = gay = weenies ≠ NFL. NFL’ers and men worldwide have been forced to develop that warrior mentality…even if it kills them. Man up! Never show even a tiny measure of pain…even when you’re in great pain.
** The roundtable hosts below discuss depression, machoism, and the warrior mentality (at 2:20).
Speaking of pain. Ironically, during the Madrid Open blue-court fiasco, then No. 6 women’s player Caroline Wozniacki was the first victim of the new surface. Wozniacki, a lady, complained the “slippery” court had caused a misstep that led to pain in her ankle during her victory over Ksenia Pervak. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh shut up you weenie!” It’s just an ankle. You don’t need it. It’s only tennis. It’s not like you’re giving birth or handling kids out there on the court.” Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. And on a hypocrisy note, in 2009 Ms. Serena Williams was put on two years probation and fined a record $82,500 ( the highest fine in Grand Slam history) for guess what? That’s right. COMPLAINING…with threats of bodily harm attached! Over a foot fault no less.
So, did recently-crowned Wimbledon champion Serena Williams kill Junior Seau? If we use daytime-talk-show rationale, perhaps she did. But probably not. I’m not sure she even knew Junior. Maybe you and I did it. Maybe history did. Or maybe he was done in by the world’s lack of compassion for pained males. Or maybe it was the onset of depression brought on by the effects of CTE. Who knows? I don’t. You don’t. It seems no one does…and maybe no one ever will. I just hope my son grows up in a world where he can have compassion for those in need, and they, in return, will have compassion for him, and he will have compassion for himself and allow himself to admit his pain. I guess the true tragedy in all of this is, in the end, like most men, like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, Junior Seau was never allowed to just…say ‘OWW.’
* This article was submitted through the Invisible Victims contact form. It was approved and edited by the Invisible Victims staff.
** The videos were not submitted by the author, but were added independently by the staff for their relevance to the subject matter.
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