Chuck Williams: Were quarterback's tears appropriate for a future lieutenant?

December 10, 2012 

It will be one of the lasting memories of the 2012 college football season.

Saturday night, Army quarterback Trent Steelman fumbled away a chance to beat Navy in the closing seconds of a gut-wrenching 17-13 loss.

He was 14 yards from ending a 10-game Army losing streak to the Midshipmen when a handoff to his fullback ended up on the ground.

Veteran CBS announced Gary Danielson, a former NFL quarterback, admitted on the air that he was breaking the journalistic creed and pulling for Steelman and Army.

As the Cadets gathered to sing the alma mater, Steelman was sobbing. As he walked off the field -- still crying -- the Navy coach and even a four-star general tried to console him.

And the scene was well documented by the CBS cameras and made highlight -- I guess that's the right word -- reels on all the sports networks.

As a college football fan, it was painful to watch. You could imagine Steelman being your brother or son.

But it begs another question. This 24-year-old engineering management major was showing great emotion, but he doesn't play for Georgia or Florida.

Steelman is an Army cadet -- a future Army officer. Should he be showing that kind of raw emotion in front of the nation?

Retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza, director of Columbus State University's Cunningham Center for Leadership Development, admitted he was uncomfortable with Steelman's public display, though he did not fault him for it.

"It was not very becoming of a guy who is about to put on bars and become a lieutenant," Cavezza said. "Sometimes, you just have to learn how to lose."

Rufus Riggs takes another view. Riggs, a retired command sergeant major, is uniquely qualified to express an opinion. A Vietnam combat veteran who is retired in Harris County, Riggs was the command sergeant major to West Point cadets from 1985-87. He rose to the highest rank an enlisted man can achieve through 28 years of service.

"There is nothing wrong with that man crying,"

Riggs said. "We all have emotions, and we all deal with those emotions differently."

Riggs pointed out that for many years, it wasn't manly for men to cry.

"Thankfully, we have come beyond that," Riggs said. "I believe that showing emotion does not diminish you as a man. In many ways, it shows who you are and what you care about."

Riggs makes a valid point, Cavezza said.

"We have come a long way," he said. "But that is not the way many of my peers would look at it."

Cavezza pointed out that former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow broke down sobbing after losing to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship game. It's a little different when you play for a military academy, Cavezza said.

"It is about respecting the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Military Academy," said Cavezza, also a Vietnam combat veteran. "You have to take things beyond person and self. You have to take things beyond what you are feeling."

It was obvious Steelman cared a lot about winning Saturday night. It is not a point of pride in Army circles that Navy has now won 11 in a row.

"If you don't win another one, that's the one you want to win," Riggs said.

During his time at West Point, Riggs went to a couple of Army-Navy games.

"If you have the opportunity to beat Navy, and you don't, I can only imagine how disappointed he was," Riggs said.

He didn't have to imagine. The folks at CBS documented it well.

"We all break down and cry about something," Cavezza said. "The question is when, where and how. I guess what made this worse was the cameras just stayed on him."

The cameras were focused on a college football player, but the problem is the only thing some people saw was a future Army officer.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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