The biggest talk of the NFC Championship Game was not the Packers stifling defence or even Caleb Hanie’s near-miraculous comeback … it was about a much bigger question: Is Jay Cutler a wimp?Cutler continues to be lambasted on Twitter and TV and not just by Bears fans disappointed with another playoff exit. Several current and former NFL players questioned Cutler’s injury, his toughness, and his heart after he left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
In the end it doesn’t matter whether Cutler really was injured or not (even though all his teammates insist that he must have been), what this incident proves is that the NFL’s smash mouth “warrior” culture — and the crippling injuries and concussions that go with it — is not going away.
The fact that players and media would criticise anyone for not being injured enough is all you need to know about why players risk brain damage and paralysis just to play on more down.
Take this typical comment from ESPN commenter and former Bronco Mark Schlereth, an outspoken critic of the league’s new rules on hits to the head.
“As a guy how had 20 knee surgeries you’d have to drag me out on a stretcher to Leave a championship game!”
Think about what he’s saying: The only acceptable excuse for not playing in a game is the complete inability to walk. (Apparently, the motorised cart that took him to the locker room was all that spared Steelers centre Maurkice Pouncey from criticism when he left the AFC title game with an ankle injury.)
Schlereth considers his still busted legs a badge of honour, but he is one of the lucky ones. He has a good post-football job with nice health insurance and is still relatively young. And, yes, even when he reaches his sixties and requires a cane or walker to get around, he may still insist it was all worth it.
But what about the players who only had two knee surgeries, because they never played again after the first one? What about those with herniated backs, degenerative hips, and yes, traumatic brain injuries, because they played football when they shouldn’t have?
The reason those injuries happen is because players who play hurt are lionized and those who don’t are humiliated. Because Jay Cutler didn’t push himself to the absolute limit and stretch his body beyond what any doctor would consider acceptable, he’s a punk who doesn’t deserve to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. And guys like Mark Schlereth and Mike Golic are the reason why.
The ex-players say, “That may not be fair, but that’s the mentality of football.” Well, the mentality of football ruins lives. The mentality of football shatter bodies. The mentality of football left Schlerth with a leg that doesn’t bend right and it left Andre Waters with the brain of a 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.
Maybe that’s the game we’re going to be left with and maybe every football player from pro to Pop Warner who signs up for a helmet is willing to accept that. But it may also become a game that a lot of people aren’t willing to stomach, from a league says one thing, but practices something much different.
If they NFL seriously wants to end the parade of concussion victims with damaged brains and former players with life-altering injuries, the way the game is played has to change. They way the players and coaches treat those who are hurt has to change.
Of all the people, Bears fans should be the most understanding of the dangers.. Chicagoan Michael Wilbon criticised Cutler for not being as good as the oft-injured Jim McMahon, apparently forgetting another story from just a few weeks ago: The one where McMahon admitted that he has no short-term memory any more, the price of dozens of hits he probably shouldn’t have taken.
We guess he’s not the only one who has trouble remembering.
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