- Tim Keown, Senior writer, ESPN.com
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This might put me in the minority, but I don't care what Maurice Jones-Drew or Darnell Dockett or Derrick Brooks or Deion Sanders thinks about Jay Cutler's toughness. And I don't know about you, but I don't remember asking them, either. Come to think of it, I think we discovered their opinions on Cutler without anybody asking them.
A few years ago, we would have had to be in the room with one of them to know what he thought about a quarterback sitting out most of the second half of an NFC Championship Game with an injury whose severity was unknown until a day later. (Grade II MCL sprain, for those of you studying at home.)
But that, of course, was in a pre-Twitter universe. In the Twitter universe, this is a controversy -- strictly a technology-driven controversy, but a controversy nonetheless. Because Twitter provides a platform for the immediate dissemination of ignorance, and because we have embraced that medium as providing information every bit as legitimate as a one-on-one interview, and because the guys spewing opinions are people who play or played football, Cutler was thrown into the middle of a fight without knowing either the rules or the stakes.
Aside from the fact that some of his fellow players apparently don't like him -- nothing to see there -- this isn't and never was about Cutler. Without the tweets (and guys who claim to be tough should boycott the technology on the basis of that word alone), this would have been a story limited to one question: How badly is Cutler hurt?
Obviously, the information disseminated by the pros and ex-pros had to be shared. Jones-Drew and the others chose to make their opinions public, so it was a story. Despite their prowess on the field, though, Jones-Drew and Dockett and Sanders knew exactly as much as the rest of us: nothing. They were sitting in the same place we were, getting the same lack of information we were getting.
About all anybody sitting at home knew was one sideline report that told us only, "Looks like a knee," two plays after Cutler had been removed from the game as the sideline camera showed us the trainers working on it. We saw Todd Collins warming up, but there was no on-air discussion. Then, later in the game, there was the occasional three- or four-second shot of Cutler, by himself, looking glum. With no real help from "traditional media," speculation flew.
It didn't take long for the lack of information to morph into uninformed opinion. You know how widespread and all-encompassing this thing got? We even heard from Bruce Gradkowski. Bruce Freakin' Gradkowski? And his tweet -- "Is cutler still ur starter next year? Did the players give up on him?" -- was reported as news. If a reporter was assigned to do a story on the reaction of other NFL players to Cutler leaving the game with a knee injury, do you know what would happen if the story focused on Gradkowski? He'd have an editor on the phone saying, "Do you think any of our readers care what Bruce Gradkowski thinks?"
And since we're all about fairness in this all-Gradowski-all-the-time world, it's incumbent upon us to let you know that Bruce tweeted an apology late Sunday ("Hey my bad!") before informing us on Monday "Mmm what a good lookin lunch a just cooked up" and "Cookin dinner tonight!! For the fiance how nice!" A guy's got to wonder, where are the headlines for those?
Bears safety Chris Harris tweeted back to all of Cutler's detractors: "Please think before tweeting!" but what's the fun in that? Thinking before tweeting might lead to no tweeting at all. Or, in Gradkowski's case, another seven or eight seconds to devote to preparing meals.
Jones-Drew did a little Gradkowski-like backtracking of his own. He said he was just joking when he questioned Cutler's toughness and pointed out his own decision to play with an injured knee. This is precisely the sort of reactionary "reporting" that drives professional athletes and coaches crazy when it's conducted by the professional media.
Every time someone writes or talks -- or tweets! -- about this story, I envision everyone in Twitter HQ getting up from their desks and doing a big Aaron Rodgers championship-belt move and following it with the B.J. Raji butt-shake. How great is it to create a product (or platform or whatever) that advertises itself every time someone uses it? It's a noun, it's a verb -- just by doing it you're advertising for it. How wonderfully centripetal is that?
Judging by all the tweeting and pontificating -- and what is tweeting if not pontification without grammar? -- it seems that Cutler could have taken steps to make the world believe he was fully incapacitated. The biggest thing he could have done was change the way he looks. That seems to be a real sticking point with his detractors. Beyond that, I've read that he could have been (a) sitting down, (b) on crutches, (c) icing his knee.
The last point needs some elaboration. I have to admit I haven't gone back and checked the precise temperatures for the time frame involved; but in Chicago on Sunday, it was roughly 8 million degrees below zero. Every time they showed an overhead shot of the stadium, I looked for Ted Williams' head. Cutler was icing his knee just by standing out there. Everyone in the stadium was icing his/her knee.
And so, looking at it with the benefit of a few hours and one medical diagnosis, here's the one thing that's clear: Cutler was showing remarkable courage, toughness and intestinal fortitude just by standing out there. Most guys with a Grade II MCL sprain would have been in the locker room, lying on a trainer's table pumped full of painkillers.
By the way, tests on Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey's ankle revealed no structural damage. He got hurt and came out of a championship game, too. He must wonder what he did to deserve such an appalling lack of newsworthy tweets questioning his manhood. Maybe he can use the obvious disrespect as motivation to go out and win the Super Bowl.
What they didn't know about Jay Cutler's injury hurt him on Sunday. Those tweets from his NFL peers were exactly the sort of reactionary "reporting" that athletes complain about all the time.