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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Do They Hate Jay Cutler?

Good morning everyone. Or afternoon depending on your time zone, I suppose, but as I just woke up I'm calling it morning. Those of you who frequent the Shoutbox know me as Erik, because that's my name and I'm the kind of guy who posts under his real name. So keep that in mind when you go to make death threats.

The good folks here at SKO have invited me to contribute to the site occasionally, so I'll be popping up now and again with cutting insight into just why the sports media is so stupid (and sometimes other things). I'm a writer by trade, so forgive me if I tend to rant. I'm doing it now, aren't I? Damn. Well, without further ado, enjoy or despise my first attempt at matching SKO's quality:

Why Do They Hate Jay Cutler?

After their most recent attempt to bait Jay Cutler into saying something outrageous, it’s become clear that, as tired as everybody else is of hearing about it, the sports media world is sticking to their guns on the “Jay Cutler is an asshole” thing.

For those too lazy to click the link, basically what it boils down to is this. Phil Simms recently said something to the effect of “I like Jay Cutler. He’s got a strong arm and he gets mean. Being mean is an important part of being a good NFL quarterback.”

Reporters at a press conference Wednesday asked Jay what he thought of Simms saying he was mean. To his credit, Jay responded by telling them to stop taking things out of context, but they’ve clearly crossed the line from stringing a narrative together to actively writing it.

In a column he wrote on October 9th, poet laureate David Haugh wrote about Lovie Smith’s success in Chicago. One of the things he pointed out was Lovie getting rid of Martz and transitioning to Tice, a move pretty much everyone agreed with because Martz was never going to run an offense that worked with the talent he had on the field and Tice will. What Haugh said instead of that, though, was that Tice’s “flexibility and affability made him ideally suited to run an offense impetuous quarterback Jay Cutler leads.”

Why did he need to bring Jay into it at all? The problem with Martz wasn’t Cutler’s attitude, and Tice hasn’t had a whole lot to say about his “impetuous quarterback.” So why is it that even the home team feels the need to tear Jay down at every opportunity? Well, as a journalist and a rabid Cutler supporter, I may have a few answers.

1) He doesn’t need them
As a writer, it can be one of the most frustrating things in the world to have an uncooperative interviewee. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write “The police officer who responded to the call was unavailable for comment because he’s a big sack of dicks,” but that’s not being professional.

Sportswriters, however, are the big pampered babies of the journalistic world. They have regular access to some of the biggest celebrities in the country, and they’re used to those celebrities taking every opportunity they can to please the crowd and, indirectly, the writer.

They’re used to Tom Brady, who puts on a handsome smiley face and laughs for the camera, but calls his teammates “fucking bitches” on the sideline when they settle for a field goal. The idea that a quarterback not only doesn’t want to talk to them, but actively resists presenting a media-friendly image is unconscionable to them.

So instead, they tear him down. They turn him into a media pariah and have a feeding frenzy every time he looks grumpy on the sideline so that, someday, he’ll come back to them looking to revamp his image and they’ll get what they wanted in the first place.

2) He doesn’t fit their model
This one is more applicable to the Chicago crowd (Haugh, Telander, Morrissey) than ESPN as a whole, but it’s ESPN’s fault in the first place. They started the “elite quarterback” conversation that has made it so hard for a number of young QB’s to get the recognition they deserve.

When it comes to “elite quarterbacks,” writers tend to cherry-pick their stats to fit that image. Take Eli Manning, who has okay-to-bad first halves all the time and looks like he’s about to crash, but turns into the Incredible Hulk in the fourth quarter and brings it back. That’s his story, right? That’s what makes him elite.

Well then, would it surprise you to know that Jay Cutler is the best 4th-quarter QB in the league right now?

But he doesn’t have a ring, and that’s become one of the defining characteristics of the elite QB, so nobody talks about it. Five years ago, Eli was “the other Manning.” I’m not necessarily saying that Jay is better than Eli, just that the sports media will actively rewrite the story on the field if the person throwing the ball has won a Super Bowl.

Want a better example? How about Brett Favre, a man whose every flaw was on painfully public display for literally his entire career. But once he got a ring, his attitude and his inconsistencies became part of the legend. The “gunslinger attitude” people criticize Cutler for was Favre’s signature “greatness.” Not only did the commentators praise him for it while he was winning, they’re still praising him for it today.

They’ve convinced themselves that not having a top-5 quarterback makes you a bad team, even though 27 teams have to play without a top-5 quarterback every year. The 49ers and the Texans are the toast of the NFL this year, and neither of their QBs is even close to the top 5. But until he wins a Super Bowl, Cutler will never be able to break into that club and have his flaws forgiven by a fawning Chris Collinsworth. 

3) LeBron James
Now, you might say, “What?” And you’d be right to do so, but bear with me.

In 2010, LeBron James made a big show of doing something dozens of people do every year: entering free agency and going to another team. While he was a big dick about it, at its core it was a roster move.

The media ripped him to pieces over it. He became the biggest villain the NBA has ever seen; it was like something out of professional wrestling. Commentators went on and on about how Jordan and Bird would never do such a thing, and how LeBron was ruining the game of basketball. The owner of the Cavaliers made a brash, untenable promise (in Comic Sans, no less) that Cleveland will win a championship not in spite of, but because of LeBron’s betrayal. The mayor of Cleveland made the team that beat LeBron for the championship honorary citizens of his city.

And that Christmas Day, the Lakers-Heat game had a 45% ratings increase from the previous year.  People were discussing nothing but the NBA in fucking July. It was the biggest story and most compelling narrative we’ve seen in basketball since Michael Jordan retired, and all it took was a villain.

For an NFL-related example, Favre’s return to Green Bay in a Vikings jersey drew more viewers than game 4 of the World Series, which aired the same night. It was the most-watched Sunday Night Football game in 14 years. I doubt the Packers’ or Vikings’ fan bases expanded appreciably that year. It was the chance to see a man who had deceived and betrayed the town that loved him (even though that’s not what really happened) beaten by his successors in front of the home audience.

And that’s why the media needs Jay Cutler to be an asshole, and will rewrite history to make him look like one. If he has a B+ game and afterward says “Yeah it was okay. We won, and I had a pretty okay night,” the story ends there. We don’t talk about it. We don’t click through to more stories and keep refreshing to see if he’s retorted yet.

But if he grumps at Mike Tice when they fail on 3rd and long, the whole sports world is talking about Jay Cutler, whether they’re cursing him or defending him. And we have that conversation in their papers, on their web pages. They sell more issues, get more pageviews and more advertising dollars, get higher ratings for every segment of SportsCenter that talks about his “outburst.”

They need a story, so they pick somebody with a grumpy face and try to turn him into a monster. And who wouldn’t believe, when you only get a 10-second view of one sideline incident, that a guy with a face like Jay’s was mean to his teammates?

None of this excuses their behavior, but at least it helps to understand why, regardless of what he does, it’s not going to stop until he wins a championship. Once he gets that ring, the “elite QB” thing will go away, and the people who spontaneously ejaculate when an ’85 Bear speaks will have to quit mocking him the same way they had to glorify Jim McMahon.

No doubt, they would say he’ll lose that game on purpose just to spite them.

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