Surely it was the first time a professional athlete has submitted to an MRI thinking, “Please let it show something bad.” But that had to be Jay Cutler’s thought Monday, the day after he’d been branded a quitter on what we like to call social media.
Cutler is the Bears’ quarterback. He left Sunday’s NFC championship game one series into the second half and stood — as opposed to sitting; this would, believe it or not, become a major Talking Point — on the sideline as his team lost to Green Bay. All the while he was being lambasted in that strange corner of our new world known as the Twitterverse.
Twitter is the realm where the unexpressed thought need not apply. What you had for breakfast: Grist for the mill. What you thought of that contestant on “Idol”: Have at it (but keep it under 140 characters). On Sunday afternoon Twitter was awash with NFL players — some current, some retired, none with anything better to do — taking turns opining that Jay Cutler had flunked his audition.
From Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville: “Hey, I think the Urban Meyer rule is in effect right now. When the going gets tough … QUIT.”
From Deion Sanders, formerly of many teams but now just another mouth: “I’m telling you in the playoffs you must drag me off the field. All the medicine in pro locker rooms [and] this dude comes out! I apologize, Bear fans! . . . Folks, I never question a player’s injury but I do question a player’s heart.”
Never mind that these folks — and a dozen others — had no real knowledge of the severity of Cutler’s injury. They were watching on TV, same as everyone else. But their Tweeting fingers took a key development from a big game and turned it into a referendum on a man’s character. One after another, the Twitter audience rose to proclaim: Heck, I once played with a broken ankle — no, two broken ankles! No, THREE! And a open head wound besides!
Deion Sanders has the charming habit of ending his Tweets with the word, “Truth.” (Five characters.) Well, here’s the truth on Jay Cutler: He was sacked 12 more times than any NFL quarterback this season. He has missed one NFL start in five seasons, that with a concussion. He’s also a Type 1 diabetic, which means he must carry a blood-sugar monitor with him at all times.
Until Sunday, nobody questioned Cutler’s manhood. His demeanor and his play, yes, but not his heart. And now, because he stood on the sideline — without an apparent limp! — in a game everyone was watching, he’d chickened out. (Never mind that the Bears insisted team doctors told him not to play.)
About here, we shake our head at the incongruity of Deion Sanders, who might actually have made a tackle at some point in his 14-year career, ripping anyone for an absence of grit. We wonder, not for the first time, why any professional athlete healthy enough to play would simply abstain. Mostly we wonder how it must have been for Cutler to hear afterward from reporters that “some players” had spent the afternoon calling him a wimp via their QWERTY keyboards.
Actually, we don’t have to wonder. According to Jim Trotter of SI.com, Cutler turned his back to the media horde when the question was asked. When he faced his inquisitors again, there were tears in his eyes. (Naturally, this was taken by some as further indication that he’s not a Real Man. Please.)
As night fell Sunday, Cutler had to be asking the question the former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan posed after being acquitted on fraud charges: “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” For the quarterback, the answer was — bizarrely enough in a story that has gone miles beyond bizarre — the MRI machine.
Imagine the reaction had his film come back clean. (Every Twitter server might have spit its bytes on the spot.) But apparently the X-rays showed a sprained medial collateral ligament, meaning a partial tear — and no holes where his heart and his guts were supposed to be. Naturally, some shrill voices declared Cutler still should have tried to play, that a MCL sprain is no big deal. And that, in our tale of New Media, sounded somehow old-fashioned.
From the dawn of time, there has been nothing that hurts less than someone else’s pain.
By Mark Bradley