As we continue to analyze the two games from this year’s round of conference championships in that excruciating week off before the Super Bowl, the attention isn’t all focused on Aaron Rodgers or even Ben Roethlisberger. Nobody has talked about the Bears near comeback on the Packers and Caleb Hanie almost being the most improbable hero since Ollie from Hickory High School. Instead, the Jay Cutler debate continues to linger.
How hurt was his knee? Why didn’t he play through it?
The criticism that Cutler received for not seeming to care enough about the game is similar to another situation from earlier in the year. The Arizona Cardinals were getting blown out by the San Francisco 49ers in a Monday Night Football game when Cardinals starting quarterback Derek Anderson was caught on camera laughing. A reporter continued to pester Anderson about the incident at the post-game press conference until Anderson launched into a profanity-laced tirade.
These two recent examples highlight an idea that continues to bother me. As fans grow up, they realize that sports aren’t as perfect as they seemed when they grew up idolizing their favorite player. We see that athletes probably aren’t the best people to idolize and that decisions by players and organizations are driven by other factors than just winning games. So it bothers me when reporters in the media don’t act the same way.
This week it has become trendy for coaches, athletes and reporters to criticize his toughness and will to win. It has become easy to say “Peyton Manning or Tom Brady wouldn’t have left that game,” which has been written multiple times this week. Was the guy hurt? Yes. Could he have come back into the game? Nobody knows. But it has been a non-stop stream of people from all areas attacking his personality and will to win. Sports is one of the few areas where everyone feels they are more knowledgeable than everyone else. None of the writers taking shots at Cutler have any idea what it is like to play in sub-freezing temperatures on a sprained MCL and if it is possible to do so.
Anderson was having what amounted to a bad day at work. His team was losing and he was unlucky to be caught smiling at the worst time. In any job, people go through bad days, yet only athletes are the few people who get criticized for acting the same way. Bankers at Lehman Brothers probably could have smiled at least once without being questioned during the fall of 2008. Partially, it’s the price of being a public figure. But it is also the beat writers trying to search for a story that doesn’t exist. To find that story, writers resort to the old standby of criticizing players for not being the real-life version of Roy Hobbs.
The pattern we see through sports is writers and the media expect athletes to be something other than human beings. When ESPN New York was created, they poached some of the best beat writers from the New York Post and New York Daily News. ESPN later hired Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Brian Windhorst after he became one of the go-to sources during the LeBron James free agency period. In these scenarios, there were no issues of the writers’ loyalty being brought up. But when Johnny Damon left the Red Sox for the hated Yankees after the 2005 season, everyone jumped on Damon for a lack of loyalty or for not caring about the rivalry. The double standard between athletes and every other profession continues.
There are plenty of instances that people can point to and say that sports are “all about the money.” But as Gil Meche and Cliff Lee showed as this winter and even LeBron James showed us this summer, that statement isn’t always the case. But elements about where to live, the best situation for one’s family, the organization and (of course) the money all factor into athletes career decisions. Just like anyone else, there are good and bad days on the job. The jobs of professional athletes are not much different than any other profession and the media should stop exploiting this angle to sell themselves. There is plenty of sports journalism out there that crucify athletes for acting in ways that every other career-driven individual would.
– Contact Dan Ziment.