January 24, 2011
When Jay Cutler(notes) was told that other players around the league had questioned his effort and toughness in the wake of the recently discovered sprained MCL he suffered in the NFC championship game, the Chicago Bears quarterback showed a side of himself we haven't much seen: vulnerability.
Jim Trotter writes on SI.com:
Cutler appeared genuinely hurt when asked about the comments, saying: "No comment on that." He then turned his back to reporters, fiddled with some things on a shelf and bit his lip as tears welled. He had been battered and beaten during the early part of the season[. ...] Yet he never complained or pulled himself.
Though some have already used Cutler's tears to prove their point that he's a wimp, shouldn't the opposite hold true? (This isn't elementary school. We should know by now that crying isn't necessarily a sign of weakness.) If I was someone who doubted Cutler's injury (and I'm not), the fact that he cried about it would indicate to me that he cared more than I thought. An apathetic man doesn't tend to cry. A quitter would probably feel the need to defend himself. Those tears suggest he's neither of those things.
MJD is right when he says it was unfair to call Cutler a quitter without knowing the full extent of his injury. And now that we know it was an MCL sprain that didn't fully rupture, it's still not fair to speculate whether he could have played. Some have suggested that he could have gone on the injured knee because other people have done so in the past. That's ridiculous. It's like saying he should be able to run under 10 seconds in the 100-meter dash because Usain Bolt can. Everyone has different limitations. If doctors, trainers and Cutler himself didn't think he could go, shouldn't that be enough? (And that's what reportedly happened. Doctors advised Cutler not to go back in the game but he did anyway. He pulled himself when he realized he couldn't plant.)
All of this Cutler talk raises another question: Why is it bad form to question a player's toughness? Should it be off limits? Why is every other negative trait about football players fair game, but not this? (Again, I'm not talking about Cutler here.) We can criticize a quarterback's inability to get rid of the ball or the decision-making involved in throwing into triple coverage or how he runs the two-minute offense, but we can't question ability to play through injury? Isn't toughness the foundation upon which football greatness is built? We celebrate Jack Tatum for playing on a broken leg and revere Emmitt Smith for his dominant performance with a separated shoulder. If you can be tough, surely it reasons that you can be soft too. You don't think someone, somewhere hasn't milked an injury to avoid getting onto the field?
The familiar refrain is "we don't know how injured he is." OK. We also don't know what Bill Belichick knew that caused him to call a fake punt at the end of the first half last week or why the Jets were so ineffective at stopping the Steelers' rushing attack or what was going through Jim Caldwell's mind when he called that timeout in the wild-card game. That didn't stop anybody from ripping them, though. Why do we get self-righteous about injuries?
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