Social media can be cruel, especially when a pack of teenage girls gang up on a peer and spread insults based on speculation, assumption and gossip. Most of it, of course, is fueled by the need to build their reputations.
So here was Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) on Sunday with a sprained MCL in his left knee, tears welling in both his eyes according to SI.com. He was trying to deal with an onslaught of questions about his injury, manhood, heart and worth as a player. His crime? Sitting out most of the second half of the Bears' NFC championship game loss to the Green Bay Packers; something some of his fellow NFL players found despicable.
This was, perhaps, the NFL's first player-on-player social media attack.
Whether Cutler should've played on that knee is a debate that will rage forever on Lake Michigan. In my opinion Cutler did nothing wrong. I'm not in the position, or of the mindset, to question anyone's toughness, let alone a professional football player though.
Other NFL players could be, perhaps, and that's where this knee injury went from story to tsunami in 140 characters or less.
It was heated. It was interesting. It was, you could say, insightful.
[Related: Cutler sprained MCL vs. Packers]
Never before, have we had such raw and direct access to the real-time thoughts of NFL players. After decades of listening to athletes claim fans and media are too rough, it turns out we've got nothing on them in the venom department. Accurate or not, what they did to Jay Cutler was straight up cold.
Cutler is not even worthy of being in the locker room with the team? Really?
Don't blame the old mainstream media this time – this was a player-fueled hit.
The twirling twitter feeds of Sunday afternoon changed the story dramatically. You can lament that in our instant gratification world things like facts, perspective and patience have died. That's true.
It isn't going away though. You might as well accept it. This is the start of the new normal. Until the next new normal, which isn't likely to slow down or soften the commentary.
Even two years ago, Cutler and the Bears would've at least had until the postgame media session to explain the injury and circumstances around the benching. Questions would've been asked, some fans still would've been angry and perhaps a columnist would've ripped away. It wouldn't have gone down like this though. Time and facts would've lessened the heat of the moment.
[Related: Y! Contributor: Cutler is no Bear]
Sunday, Cutler was getting assailed within seconds of being taken out of the game – his aloof facial expressions, apparent disinterest in the game and history of not connecting with fans didn't help any, of course.
The NFL isn't prepared for this stuff. Teams pride themselves on secrecy. Ex-players-turned-analysts almost always fall back on tales of the "rub-some-dirt-on-it" days. The league still clings to its archaic and unreliable system of defining injuries: doubtful, questionable, probable, etc.
It was announced in the press box (which was then relayed out by media) that Cutler was "questionable" (whatever that means). That left a couple of obvious queries: who's asking and who's answering the "question."
Winston Churchill's line is "a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on." In this case, it was the sentiment that Jay Cutler was a quitter that whipped around the globe instantly. The official medical prognosis could wait.
Inside Solider Field fans read and passed on twitter comments from the NFL players via their smart phones. With each minute, the rhetoric grew increasingly heated. I was sent word of a new twitter account "@JayCutlersHeart" had been created, one of many springing up to mock the player. I immediately re-tweeted it out to my followers; participating in the game of one-upmanship.
Most challenging for Cutler is this: whether he should've played is neither truth nor lie, it is opinion. That's more difficult to battle. By the postgame, Cutler was no longer able to explain himself with the facts – few seemed to care about the Bears saying it was a doctor's decision or teammates speaking up for their QB. It was no longer about what happened, but why did it happen. Cutler was in defense mode and wasn't prepared for it – offering a meek "no comment" to the criticism.
The questions by reporters were more aggressive than they would've been pre-twitter because journalists could lean on the opinion of NFL players to frame things. No sports reporter is going to toe-to-toe in a debate with Brian Urlacher(notes) on the toughness of a player unless he can cite Jones-Drew, Sanders and the others.
"Players around the league you said, right?" Urlacher said when asked about the Cutler criticism. "Yeah, love jealous people when they're watching our game on TV while their season is over."
Fair point but that's where we've landed. Twitter has allowed a voice to emerge from the couches – be it the average Joe or the NFL pro. Everyone is empowered. It's unfettered, it's immediate and in it's brevity it offers very little opportunity for perspective.
You're gutless or you're not. You're a quitter or you're not. Black. White. Sent.
One thing you learn as a writer is that some of your best lines are the ones you delete. That doesn't always work in social media.
There is an undeniable badge of honor that comes from playing in the NFL. What's surprising is that there doesn't appear to be a universal appreciation for, or respect among, the participants though.
Jones-Drew and the others weren't willing to hold their thoughts and give a fellow player the benefit of the doubt, let alone a couple hours for an explanation or medical report.
They just drilled him – the seventh grade overtaking the National Football League.
- Jay Cutler