It's hard to believe, but Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- one of the most reviled men in sports -- has given people yet another reason to dislike him. After coming out of Sunday's championship game with a nondescript knee injury, players and fans alike excoriated the surly signal-caller; our sister publication ran a well-read article entitled "Jay Cutler: Pussy."
It turns out that Cutler sprained his medial collateral ligament -- not exactly a bone-through-the-skin, thunderclap-of-pain-followed-by-primal-scream type of injury, but enough to render a quarterback ineffective (even a Ferrari will cease to function if you remove the sparkplugs).
Your humble narrator has not played a lick of competitive football. But, having torn both anterior cruciate ligaments, I am an expert on knee injuries. So I feel somewhat qualified to state that the criticism of Cutler's manhood in the wake of a ligament injury is a perfect example of how the internet allows idiocy to spread 'round the world at breakneck speed -- and enables people to talk more while saying less.
The many professional and amateur commentators who noted that Cutler was standing on the sideline and not writhing in pain -- and, ergo, a pussy -- have obviously not experienced the joy of a major knee ligament injury.
Following the actual spraining or tearing -- which is remarkably painful and feels as if one has had molten liquid injected into one's body -- the pain subsides rapidly. Walking around without your knee ligaments doesn't hurt. But pain isn't the issue here, even if it is the obsession of self-aggrandizing football players and hypocritical former high school jocks gone to seed -- who claim they'd have stayed in the NFL championship game even after their heads were separated from their bodies and kicked beneath the grandstands. The real issue is stability; losing your ligaments causes one to totter around like a newborn foal. Television viewers would be less likely to question why Cutler wasn't on the field if he was rolling around and grabbing his knee as if he'd been attacked by a shark. But that's not what happens when you sprain a ligament.
With an alarming number of former football players wandering through even their youthful years in a punch-drunk haze or near-incapacitated in even early middle age -- seriously, Earl Campbell is in a wheelchair -- the sport's masochistic deification of subjecting oneself to dangerous physical ordeals has taken a hit. But old -- and stupid -- traditions die hard. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has been anointed as the anti-Cutler for gutting out an entire playoff game with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. What folks haven't brought up, however, is that the Chargers lost that game, didn't score any touchdowns, and Rivers had a lackluster day.
If nothing else, Cutler's pariah status could be seen as karmic retribution. His arrogant behavior and perpetual sneer have alienated fans, media, and players alike. Had likable QBs such as Aaron Rodgers or, say, Doug Flutie, been sidelined with an MCL sprain, it's unlikely the vitriol would have been cranked to 11. But Cutler is a condescending prick. It almost feels wrong to let him off the hook.
Finally, one has to question the wisdom of the Chicago Bears franchise. The team's offensive line allowed Cutler to be knocked around like a pinata this year -- so it's a bit iffy that the No. 2 quarterback, Todd Collins, is old enough to remember the day Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon (and, more damningly, he was never any good).
But that's a football matter, not a knee injury one -- and, therefore, out of my purview. Criticize Cutler all you want for his rudeness and his fat-faced sneer. But when you question his manhood you don't have a knee to stand on.
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