Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a problem, a big one. What happened on the sideline last Sunday in the freezing cold of Chicago, as his Bears teammates struggled on the field, may forever taint Cutler’s career.
I don’t think in all the years I have watched football that I have witnessed a player whose actions or better yet, inactions, were so grossly misunderstood.
It turns out that Jay Cutler did indeed suffer a real injury to his knee. According to reports it was a grade two sprain of his MCL, which also means there was a tear.
This is a painful, often debilitating injury, that can take weeks or months to heal. But players, and ex-players, steeped in the honor and tradition of the game, cried foul anyway.
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith also stepped in Monday to say that he and the team’s medical staff made the decision to keep Cutler out of the game.
Smith said he didn’t want Cutler on the field “unprotected.” Bears players like linebacker, Brian Urlacher said he and his teammates know just how tough and committed Jay Cutler is.
But while Cutler’s teammates and coach came to his defense, many other players, past and present did not. Their assessment was especially damning.
Dozens of tweets, soundbites, and other comments from players all over the league reacting to Jay Cutler were devastating. But honestly, what could they know from home?
Still, we cannot completely dismiss the opinions and attitudes of these judgmental players. The culture of professional football is one that we common folk may never fully understand.
Why is it that players are willing to risk it all, for the glory of winning a championship? Why is it that former players who have been maimed and crippled insist that they would do it all again, exactly the same way?
Why is it that a partially paralyzed former player like Dennis Byrd, would inspire New York Jets’ players, by saying he would do anything to experience just one more play? I can only hazard a guess.
It’s likely because precious sports moments are fleeting. The thrill of a single great play, whether a block, a crushing tackle, an exciting throw, run or catch can last a lifetime.
If we fans can re-live those moments, consider what impact they have on the players who actually accomplish those feats.
So, of course, players have to wonder why a man like Cutler would not be playing in the biggest game of his career, when our eyes could see that he could still walk, and interact with his teammates.
It’s got to be tough to be Jay Cutler right now. No one wants to be second-guessed. No one wants his commitment challenged.
I am extremely bothered by the armchair psychoanalysis of this man. Everyone seems to know or think they know what Jay Cutler should have done.
From Sunday night on, I have heard a lot about body language. When did we become experts on body language? How should Jay Cutler have comported himself on the sideline?
Yes, many other players may have attempted to play through the pain. Yes, many players would have done anything to get back on the field. And yes, Jay Cutler looked disinterested.
So clearly Cutler has an image problem. This is something that he may not overcome anytime soon. Nonetheless, there are things that he can learn from this experience.
First off: look like you care. Look like you give a damn. The disengaged look on your face has given football people, other players and fans the wrong impression ever since you entered the league.
The quarterback is usually a team's most important player. Teammates, the coaching staff, and fans, look to you for leadership and cues that suggest how well this team will perform.
There are no easy answers here. And I’m not sure what if any lessons have been learned.
That said, Jay Cutler will have a lot to prove to others going forward. His career and how he is viewed is in jeopardy.
But fans, other players, and commentators need to take a breath and assess the harm they’ve done to Cutler, by talking and speculating with little to no information. A case can be made that Cutler was libeled.
But the real crime here just might be our obsession with sports, an obsession that often blinds and misinforms players and fans alike.