Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- One of the first things they teach sportscaster wannabes in journalism school is never to speculate about injuries.
You don’t know until you know. There’s no room, not when it comes to the health of an athlete whose loved ones just might be watching on TV or listening to the radio.
It’s easy to forget that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a person, not some comic-book hero who dresses like a gladiator and flings footballs for the Sunday afternoon enjoyment of the beer-chugging mob.
Monsters of the Midway, the Bears are called. Behind those facemasks reside men, not monsters.
They are fathers, sons, brothers, husbands.
What happened to Cutler, who -- no argument here -- tilts toward aloof, nonchalant and irritating, demands a rebuke from the highest levels of the National Football League and, more importantly, the players association. Where is union Executive Director DeMaurice Smith? He wastes little time responding when the owners fire barbs aimed at collective bargaining matters.
Members of the NFL fraternity labeled Cutler a quitter via Twitter during Sunday’s National Football Conference championship game, which the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers 21-14.
Cutler left the game early in the third quarter. Only --and this is the part that really rubbed people the wrong way --he didn’t seem to be seriously injured. He stood on the sideline with one of those he-ain’t-going-back-into-the-game jackets draped over his shoulders. He used no crutches. He wore no grimace.
Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett posted on his Twitter account, “If I’m on Chicago team Jay Cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!”
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew posted, “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one …” Former players such as Deion Sanders, an analyst on the NFL Network, chimed in, too, deriding Cutler’s inability to gut it out when his team needed him most.
Shame on all of them for reinforcing and perpetuating the NFL as a bastion of foolish machismo, a place where an injured player owes it to his comrades to put the team’s interest ahead of a little thing like, say, the ability to have a game of catch with his little boy once the playing days are over.
Take a Peak
As if everyone should be former Washington Redskins running back and National Basketball Association union Executive Director Billy Hunter, whose knee-replacement surgery reduced the tough guy to tears. Dockett and James-Drew should take a peek at the gruesome scar on the knee of Indianapolis Colts assistant coach John Teerlinck. The man can barely walk.
There are countless stories of former professional athletes who live in agony. The pressure to play, even while hurt, got Brett Favre hooked on painkillers.
This is the same idiocy that led so many former NFL players to suffer repeated head injuries that contributed to dementia.
Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said the locker room was divided over whether quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have played a week after sustaining a concussion. Ward apologized to Roethlisberger, whose Steelers will face the Packers in the Super Bowl.
Sadly, but predictably, a number of NFL players, including Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, lampooned the league’s attempt to abolish helmet-to-helmet hits, mocking the changes with the typical we-don’t-wear-skirts silliness.
Players have to be protected from themselves. They are their own worst enemies.
Cutler, to his credit, declined to comment when asked about the Twitter postings of players sitting on their couches. He tried to play. He couldn’t. What more is there to know?
There’s no hiding on the football field or in the locker room. Cutler’s teammates know him best. Urlacher was among the Bears defending Cutler, who, according to Coach Lovie Smith, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
“Jay was hurt,” Urlacher said. “He’s one of the toughest players on our football team.”
NFL owners treat their teams as businesses. More wins usually means more money. Coaches need to win to keep their jobs. The players must look out for themselves, personally and collectively.
Any athletic trainer worth his Ace bandage will tell you there’s a difference between playing with pain and playing with an injury. The patient and medical staff are best positioned and qualified to make that determination.
Twitter limits its postings to 140 characters. Good thing for Dockett and Jones-Drew they only need nine for what should be their next Cutler-related tweets:
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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