His Twitter bio simply reads, “I play tennis”, but Andy Murray is more than just a professional tennis player. In the course of his career, the Scot has won multiple Grand Slam tournaments, been British No1, became a two-time Olympic champion, and was the first British man to win a singles title at Wimbledon since before the Second World War. Any athlete’s career that included just one of these achievements would be complete but, in the early hours of this morning in Washington, Andy Murray gained another accolade - he became an important men’s mental health role model.
The British tennis superstar defeated Romanian Marius Copil in a gruelling contest that ran until after 3am to secure a place in the final eight at the Citi Open. After the match, Murray returned to his seat and openly wept into a towel for a few minutes before, as per his style, signing autographs for all who asked. This wasn’t the first time that Murray has showed his emotions enthusiastically (who could forget the hug he shared with his mum Judy after his Wimbledon win?) but to see him sobbing deeply and publicly was still a striking and moving image.
A Scots laddie cried after winning a long game of tennis - so what?
Well, to grasp the importance of Murray’s tears, it’s vital to appreciate the state of men’s mental health and what such an action means for it.
Put bluntly, us blokes are a sex in the grip of a mental health crisis. Our depression and anxiety rates are frightening, our problems go unacknowledged, and we’re killing ourselves in huge numbers due to treatable conditions. There’s a men’s mental health epidemic out there and the need for action is way past being urgent. In my view, last night, Andy Murray took a big swing in the fight back.
Firstly, by crying openly, Murray showed that men’s emotions are valid and fit for public view. His tears told men around the world that, if he, a world class athlete, could weep where people could see him, then, it’s okay for us too. The context matters. Murray didn’t cry at home or in a cinema, he cried in a sporting context. This is important because it sends the signal that crying and the apex of modern masculinity - professional sports - are compatible. This addresses one of the main issues around mental health provision - it’s not put in a masculine context. There’s often too much of an emphasis on sitting down, talking, and sharing with others which, while important, leaves a lot of blokes feeling alienated. Putting tears and sport on the same screen tells us that we can be emotional while still being masculine - that is a powerful message.
Secondly, more important than where the tears fell is who they fell from; in this case, from Britain’s greatest living athlete. An often under-appreciated aspect of men is that we respond very well to male role models. Our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, as well as film stars, musicians, and male teachers are incredibly important to us but among the top influences for a great many men are the sports stars we admire and, for many of my generation of men, that includes Andy Murray. In the early hours of the morning, Andy Murray sent a message that effectively said, “if you want to be like me - it’s ok to cry”. That too, is powerful as hell.
To call Andy Murray a high-achiever is as much of an understatement as his Twitter bio but having the bravery and confidence to put his emotions on display as he did is certainly among the most impressive achievements to date and will have a lasting impact in the minds of men who sorely needed to see it.
Well done Andy!