On the injured reserve list because of a knee injury suffered early in training camp, McKinley missed both the game and his teammates. And, as we all know, and most psychiatrists will confirm, men in organizations like the military and sports teams are reluctant to speak to anyone about mental or emotional difficulties because to do so would be considered, in the male mythology, as weakness.
And to be "weak" or a "wimp" as a male is worse than dropping a winning touchdown pass in the last second of the Super Bowl. It is the mark of having reached the bottom. It is a sign that you are no longer a real man.
And, whatever men may say, there is no fate worse than not to be considered a real man.
And real men are not supposed to cry, certainly not in public.
And real men are not supposed to have any problems, again, certainly not in public.
And real men are not supposed to be lonely, or depressed, or disappointed or frustrated, and certainly not in public.
And real men are not supposed to express those feelings of loneliness, depression, disappointment or frustration because to do so would be a sign of being "unbalanced" or "unstable" or "not reliable" or "untrustworthy."
For males to learn the words for their emotions, (and the experts say that male children have repressed all emotions except anger by the time they reach nine years of age) and find the capacity to use those words in honest, mature and open (not defensive) manner would truly be a revolution long overdue.
As one family practitioner put it, when reminded that men can and do learn the vocabulary for their emotions, "Oh yes, but women do it so much better!"
As if in the realm of the emotions, women are the superior gender. It is true that women are not afraid of their emotions, and that they seek comfort and solace from their "sisters" whereas men slink off into a bar, or a corner to heal their emotional wounds, because there is no place for them to surface and still retain their respectability. It is also true that women experience their emotions as a matter-of-fact of daily life, and those emotions guide their responses.
Men, on the other hand, reject their own emotions and reject the show of emotions as part of the daily lives of men and women, whether at work, at play or at home. It is as if such emotions are dangerous, and men, in their proud denial, only make the dangers of their own emotions greater through their denial. When denied, those emotions take on a kind of "dark side" making them more restless, more scattered and more unpredictable.
And there is not now, and never has been, a man alive who has not needed, and failed to seek, the kind of emotional support that would have, perhaps, found other options for and with Kenny McKinley, and for all the other men whose lives have been terminated by their own hands, unnecessarily, but for the culture of denial and fear of the very emotions that give those men the capacity to experience their lives in a more rich and fulfilled way.
Kenny McKinley leaves a son now without a father, because, in part, he could not permit his own emotions their fair voice. Joking in the locker room, for which he will be remembered by his teammates, was merely a mask for his broken heart. And all of us need to be able to discern the difference between the mask and the reality of another's heart, especially of those near and dear to us.
Here is a response from a female reader:
Random thoughts about both genders suffering from looking responsible and acceptable with stoicism:
The preferred mask often presented in public by both men and women is one painted with positive words, positive behavior, and positive emotions. When certain emotions are perceived only as darkly negative, such as anger, both men and women reduce their capacity to understand the cause of their emotions and in turn, relationships become crippled because no one has language to articulate what is really going on inside in safety and trust. To be able to discern the differences between mask and reality, macho-positive-all-action-no-reflection-no talking-no emoting-buck-up responses within both genders will need to be held at bay while exploring the vulnerable side that says I-need-you-right-now-hear-everything-but-...as John Powell put it in his small but effective book, "Why I don't tell you who I am"... "If I tell you who I am you might reject me and that is all I have."