Jay Cutler's shortcoming: not guts but failing to "act" gutsy
The case of Jay Cutler, the injured and viciously maligned quarterback of the Chicago Bears, renews the furor over injuries in pro football. It should cause sports journalists to rethink how they talk about players who decide they can no longer play.
The NFL, its players and its fans say they just hate the way their game maims and cripples the men who play it. They would do anything to prevent pro football from disabling their Sunday heroes. Anything, that is, except forgiving a player who dares to admit he's too hurt to stay on the field.
Witness the vicious, immediate and relentless flogging that Cutler took over the weekend when a knee injury sent him out of the NFC championship game.
NFL veteran Derrick Brooks tweeted: “There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and no heart.” Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones Drew accused Cutler of quitting and added, also via Twitter: "He can finish the game on a hurt knee. I played the whole season on one."
The former players who are regular NFL commentators might have a little more perspective, having seen the dark side of retirements marred by rubber knees and missing memories. Instead, the veterans piled on, preceded by disingenuous disclaimers about how they would never judge the severity of Cutler's injury.
Mike Golic of ESPN radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning": "I would be screaming and scratching to get back on the field.” Former Bears' coach Mike Ditka, on the same program, said he “would have to be completely knocked out to come out of that football game."
But, oops, then came the news that Cutler had torn his medial collateral ligament or MCL. Considerably more than a boo boo. That's also an injury that no one, outside the injured player or a doctor, can assess with any certainty.
But "apologies" for the instant condemnation of Cutler were muted at best. Jones Drew tried to claim he had "never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser. I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context."
Sure. A lack of context--the refuge of many a scoundrel trying to duck responsibility for exactly what they said.
The irony is that sports journalists, led by ESPN, have done considerable reporting on the dangers of football injuries, particularly concussions. We now clearly understand that football veterans lose their memory, suffer seizures, and worse, from too many shots to the head.
At least a word of sanity on the issue came from former quarterback Ron Jaworski, another commentator who appeared on the "Mike and Mike" show, who said he had injured the same knee ligament as Cutler. "I sprained my MCL once," Jaworski told Golic and his sidekick. "I was the holder for a field goal and almost fainted from the sharp pain that went through my knee."
Where Cutler really failed was not hollering and preening about how much he wanted to play. Another ESPNer and former QB, Trent Dilfer, questioned Cutler's "mentality in this football game." What this meant, Dilfer explained, was: "The fact he didn’t show the fight to re-enter the game. The fact he didn’t show the demonstrative behavior that most players put in this situation would show if told they couldn’t go in the game.”
It wouldn't have hurt if someone in the booth, on the sidelines, or on Twitter had reminded everyone about the long line of heroes who dragged themselves back into the game, only to hurt their teams with poor play and hurt themselves, worsening already serious injuries.
It turns out doctors and sports ethicists have a lot to say about how all this tough talk brings us to a place where 50-year-old men, their short NFL careers over, can barely walk or remember what they had for breakfast.
Photo: Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the 2011 NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Credit: Jeff Hanisch / US PRESSWIRE