The crying game

On June 21, after returning to Grand Slam tennis after a year off due to crippling health problems, Serena Williams won her first-round match at Wimbledon. How did she celebrate? She burst into tears.

"I usually don't cry," the four-time Wimbledon champ told reporters, "but it's just been so hard. I never dreamt I would be here right now. And then to win. I just wanted to win at least one match here."

In March, after the Miami Heat lost to the Chicago Bulls, the media fixated on a comment Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made in the postgame interview: "There's a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now."

Perhaps Williams and the Heat didn't catch Tom Hanks' memorable movie line: There's no crying in [insert sport here]! Traditionalists believe tears make athletes seem weak and unstable, giving the competition ample opportunity to pounce and sending a message of instability to coaches and advertisers (which may be why Spoelstra later backtracked, saying he wasn't certain there were actual tears shed). But according to Jodi Deluca, a licensed clinical psychologist in Tampa, Fla., who treats many pro and retired athletes, it may be inevitable.

"Sports are emotion-driven, for both athletes and spectators," Deluca said. "It's all about the challenge, bonding, camaraderie. You've taken an emotional gamble. Crying can be a sign of victory, expressing to the world 'I did it!'"

But when emotion and stress have been building during a clutch game or once-in-a-lifetime season, and a player has had to put her emotions on the backburner in order to stay in the zone, the result can be a real bawl -- especially following a loss.

"It's the agony of defeat," Deluca said. "For the Miami Heat, look at all the blood, sweat and tears ... and what was the gratification? As humans, we are governed by our emotions, but athletes are compromised on a daily basis, forced to keep their emotions in check. After a game or a season, they're spent, their defenses are low," and they might, understandably, lose it.

On the bright side, tears have a physically and emotionally cleansing effect, signaling the release of hormones, which may help calm you down.

If you're reading this and your name does not rhyme with Merena Filliams or Candi Shastain, chances are a few tears here and there won't hurt your game or give your competition a leg up. But if you find yourself breaking into tantrums on the court or field a la John McEnroe, it's probably time to book an appointment with a therapist to gain control over your emotions. "Sore losers," Deluca warns, "are generally not well-received."

Shoot or pass? Big girls do cry ... but Tonya Harding-busted-shoelace rants? Not cool.