Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
By Frankie O
It isnt a trial, but it sure feels like one. From the moment that he was injured in the NFC Championship game, people have taken sides and its the argument that has consumed a city, if not a nation. Where I work is a different kind of court, one where facts arent always the deciding factor. It is a court where perceptions rule, it is the court of public opinion. Its one where Im an arbiter every day. Short of someone breaking the law, I dont know if I have ever seen a case like this one.
The defendant is one different dude. He has taken the act of walking to the beat of a different drummer to stratospheric heights. The perception of him publicly is that he does not care about ANYTHING. It is one thing to have a detached cool about you, but past that is an arrogant smugness and that is where most people think he resides. This is an accusation that has dogged him for a long time, longer than he has been in the public eye. Why would a quarterback of his talents end up at Vanderbilt? You tell me. See? Thats how it works. You can put the puzzle together without having all the pieces as long as it seemingly makes sense. (This especially happens after a few coldies and I sometimes need to swat reality back into the face of someone who is reaching.) In his early years at Denver, we all remember the verbal spats with Philip Rivers and on-field officials and the growing perception that he was a punk. In fact, I had a QB from the upcoming Super Bowl XLV say that to my face. Its no wonder Jay Cutler has horrible body language, due to the amount of baggage hes carrying.
In an event that would change the direction of the Bears for the next generation Josh McDaniels took over the Denver Broncos and immediately decided that Cutler was not his kind of guy and promptly traded him to the highest bidder, your, Chicago Bears. Who won in that transaction is still up for debate. That McDaniels has since been proven to have his own issues and was in way over his head has not benefitted Cutler at all. The public PERCEPTION of that time, that Cutler threw a hissie when he became aware of McDaniels shopping of his talents, and in diva-like fashion demanded to get out of town, has remained. Although I would ask, how would you have reacted if the young genius decided he could do better than you as soon as he walked in the door? Thought so. Interestingly, I rarely hear about the comments that Cutler supposedly made comparing himself in a more than positive light to Denver icon John Elway before he ever played a game there. Unless, that is, Im talking to a Broncos fan, their venom is in no short supply.
The trade created an euphoria amongst Bears fans, for they finally, after generations of waiting, had their franchise QB. The Summer of Cutler was as fun as it got without winning a game. Hope truly sprung eternal, and the sky was the limit. I sold a ton of Bears kool-aid at the bar and the faithful wanted even more. Then, unfortunately, the season began. Talk about a buzz-kill, its not easy throwing 26 interceptions in the NFL, but it wasnt that god-awful amount of picks that was the worst thing. Yeah, there was something worse! It was media Jay. I have never in my life seen someone whos every move and reaction got picked apart for evaluation by the masses. That being said, I dont know any athlete who has ever repeatedly looked worse. You can not say Jay Cutler without talking about his body language. On the field it looks bad, in a press conference or on TV it looks ten times more so, with a smirk added for good measure. Whether it is intended or not doesnt matter. Whether he can control it or not, at this point, does not matter either. Its there for all to see and has become a focal point for all of his bashers, of which there is a large number, with their ranks growing every day. I always thought that the Denver folks were a little over-the-top bitter about him, but after watching for a while, you could begin to understand.
But as always, performance has a way to smooth out ones rough edges. Am I right Ben Roethlisberger? If you win, your packagebaggage becomes a little more tolerable and if you win big, it can almost be accepted. Thats just Jay being Jay. I teased Bear fans all week, even the few I saw sporting his jersey, that all it took was a playoff win for everyone to begin to accept him. But even the ones wearing the jersey would admit doing so in public was a full-time job. I would imagine only wearing an Eagles 7 Mike Vick jersey would be more work, unless that is you could find a 32 O.J. Simpson Bills retro.
Better or worse, he was the QB for this town, leading the Bears into the biggest game ever played in this city. Any analysis of the game and its outcome always depended on what would be considered the games wild-card factor and that was the play of Cutler. It wasnt quite the good Rex-bad Rex of 2006, but is really close, although, from his play in the game it was difficult to tell any difference in the two Indiana natives. For any number of reasons his play was not good. But as we all know, that is not what we will remember about this game. Our lasting image will be of him sitting on the sidelines, looking like he would rather be anywhere else.
The debate over his injury and his ability to deal with it, although unfair in many ways, is one that will be had because he is the on-field leader of a team that was playing for a berth in the Super Bowl. If you want to be the man, and get paid like one, you better be able to deal with what comes your way like one. Having Deion Sanders question Cutler, when he never made a tackle in his life, is a joke. But who takes Prime seriously anyway? Hes paid to be a TV funnyman these days, sitting next to his old White House roommate Michael Irvin, trading NFL yuck-yucks. And Jason Whitlock? Honestly?! Seems to me hes trying to fill the void left by the absence of the former Sun Times columnist as someone who will only type inflammatory comments. At least Jay could write. This being said, there are many questions that need to be answered about the injury and how it was handled. My main question is: Why wasnt he getting treatment for his knee if it was the straintear that we are being told? Isnt the critical part of dealing with such an injury putting ice on it as soon as possible so that the swelling can be controlled so that the knee could be fit with a brace if it would be needed in say, 2 weeks?
This is where the Cutler indictment starts. Rightly or wrongly, because he was not taken off the field on a stretcher, his toughness is being questioned. I dont think this line of questioning would be asked of a lot of other athletes. For two reasons it is: First, Cutler has not made a lot of friends in the media which is now bashing him. Second, it seems the Bears are in over their heads in dealing with their Cutler situation. They know hes a lightning-rod, but do they help diffuse any of the situations which he has gotten himself into? Why is there so much venom? Did this just happen? Hes a person who is need of some help and you would think if hes one of your prized assets you would help him, or demand, that he get it from someone else, say a professional.
The shots of Cutlers disengagement brought a weird feeling over the bar. Not knowing what happened or why he was just standing there looking into outer-space was not painting a good picture for the face of the franchise. I do not question the fact that he was hurt. Unless it is you, you will not understand what he is going through. But because of the reaction to his injury, it about time that he, and the Bears, realize that the way things have been done, is not working. Not saying that he has to change, but he can at least try to play the game. Im with Barkley in that all athletes are not role models, but most of them can be used to teach the right and wrong way to handle a situation since they tend to live their lives in very public ways. Part of the maturity of any person is to understand that there might be better ways to do things, that just because you think that something should be done in a certain way, makes it the ONLY way it should be done.
I have found myself defending Jay a lot at the bar, and on TV, this year. I only met him once, but I got a good vibe off of talking to him and I usually trust my instincts, as jaded as I am. But my defending him in animated bar conversations does not matter. What matters is whether he wants to defend himself. I know he may not believe it, but people do want to give him a chance, he just has to let them in, show them that he can be their guy. For as much as he does not want to admit it, being a quarterback, in a major U.S. city is a big thing and comes with a lot of responsibility. He can view it that way and find a path forward that hopefully wont be as painful as the one hes on now, or he can look back many years from now and wonder if only he did things differently. Its his choice.
But for sure, well be watching. For in the court of public opinion, there are no mandatory sentences or statute of limitations. Theres just a constant docket that occupies our attention. Any decision can be over-turned, the public just needs a reason to do so.