NFL Cut Down Day: Here Comes the "Turk"

Donna CavanaghCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 21: Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches the finals moments of a win against the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium on December 21, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 47-7. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Today is Cut Down Day in the NFL. 

I understand that it is an emotional day where some careers are launched and others are sunk.  I get the whole “dashed dreams” heartache thing.  I have experienced this kind of emotional devastation in my own lifetime as well as the pain of rejection.

I was cut from the eighth grade cheerleading squad, and to this day, I believe my elimination was politically motivated. That pain sliced my heart in two. I still cannot do a cartwheel without shedding tears. I was rejected from the Peace Corp when I was 18 because I did not possess the life skills that they thought might help third-world countries. 

In the Peace Corp’s defense, my only real skill at that time was the correct application of mascara, so it was probably better that they discouraged me from volunteering.

Today, as NFL wannabes and veterans find out if they made the cut or not, I have to stop and take notice of the process that transforms some young men into NFL players and others into soon-to-be managers of the local fast food joint. 

I know some of you are saying, “Well, if you do not like Cut Down Day, don’t watch!” 

Ah, but I have to watch and know who will and who will not be with us for opening day.  As president of an NFL data analysis site,, I sort of have to know who is in and who is out.  However, I think there is too much drama attached to this day. 

For instance, let’s look at the role of the “Turk” – the eliminator who summons the players to his office so he can crush their dreams in person.  How does one get the title of “Turk”? Is this a role people like to take on? Where did the title of “Turk” come from?  To me, it’s got a thug or mob ring to it. I don’t think it’s the image the NFL should go for.

When players get the call to go see the “Turk”, do they know who it is or is it some big mystery?  Does the “Turk” wear a special outfit for the occasion?  Is he dressed up like the Grim Reaper? Maybe he just dons a black hooded sweatshirt so he looks athletic and menacing at the same time — sort of Bill Belichick on a rainy day. 

Maybe, just maybe, the “Turk” dresses as Bozo the Clown or a comic Superhero, so the last NFL memory for guys who are cut is a funny or positive one. How much less traumatic would it be to watch your dreams go up in smoke if Superman was the one lighting the fire? Maybe the “Turk” wears a fatherly costume like a Joe Paterno mask. I would think having your playbook ripped from your hands is a lot easier to take when a revered old man is doing the ripping.

If I were a player on that about-to-be-eliminated bubble, I would not answer my cell phone this entire weekend.  Maybe if a player pretends he didn’t get the call, he will not get cut. Maybe there is a pity position that all teams keep secret. That would be nice.

Personally, I think the NFL could learn a great deal from the theatrical world.  I know the NFL does not want to hear this, but drama people are a lot tougher than NFL players.  How do theater actors and dancers find out about cuts?  A public posting of a list. 

Yes, everyone knows at the same time who is in and who is out. There is no “Turk” explaining why the cut was made.  You just assume you stunk up the audition. No “Turk” is there offering condolences and names of other producers who might have a role for you.  No, drama people are unceremoniously thrown out on their butts and told to take more lessons or go back to waiting tables. 

I know there is still hope for some players who get the call to go see the “Turk”.  There are practice squad players who I think are the NFL’s version of media interns.  They get the crap beaten out of them for almost no pay but they gain experience and maybe a shot to get cut again next year.  They are like the understudies of the gridiron.

I am just thinking here, but if I was a player who knew that there was a good shot I was going to meet the “Turk”, I would head to the team locker room and wait for other players to show up especially those who might be in line to take my spot on the roster.

It’s a fact of life that injuries occur at the strangest times, and teams need replacement players. One never knows when a player might “accidentally” fall down a flight of steps or get stuck and shrivel up in the whirlpool.  It could happen.  My only caveat with this strategy is to make sure that the player who “accidentally” trips or shrivels is the player whose position you want.  It does you no good for a punter to take a header down some steps if you are a defensive lineman.  In other words, make wise choices.

Well, that is my take on NFL Cut Down Day.  To those who do not make it onto an NFL roster, I say “I do feel for you, and there is always next year.”  To those who do make a team, I say “Congratulations on a job well done, and I look forward to watching you play this season.”