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Cutler case proves perception of injuries hasn't evolved with game

It's too bad Jay Cutler only tore his medial collateral knee ligament in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. A broken kneecap might have been better; heck, a broken leg would have been better than that. Can someone please grab Cutler's knee and turn it 180 degrees?

Because really, that's the only way Cutler should have come out of Sunday's game against the Packers. As we all know, unless you're dead, you'd better be playing. Otherwise, you aren't a real NFL man.

"I have to be crawling and can't get up, to come off the field,'' Derrick Brooks tweeted Sunday, in the heat of the moment. "Meds are available.''

Absolutely. Jay, throw back a few Advil and get your broken self back out there. There is a game to be won. That stuff you pulled in the second half against Green Bay was unacceptable. You are a tin man. As Brooks, the former Tampa Bay linebacker, noted, "There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart.'' Man up, Cutler.

GALLERY: NFL players who rushed to rip Cutler

Well ...

I don't know Jay Cutler from Jay Gatsby. His public face is either scowling or standoffish. He's an easy guy to rip. Plus, pain is implied in the contract. In the NFL, if you're not hurt today, you will be tomorrow. If you're not hurting, you're not trying. Unless you're a kicker.

But the bashing Cutler took Sunday was dumb. The comments reflect a Cro-Magnon culture that hasn't progressed with the same speed as the science that surrounds it. In fact, it hasn't progressed at all.

"As a guy [who has had] 20 knee surgeries, you'd have to drag me out on a stretcher to leave a championship game,'' tweeted former Pro Bowl lineman Mark Schlereth, now an ESPN commentator. Purple hearts for you, Mark. Ever think that's a reason you had 20 operations? Let's see you play with your grandkids a few decades from now.

On the radio Monday, ESPN's Mike Golic suggested the ankle injury that KO'd Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey was more believable than Cutler's knee pop, because Pouncey emerged on crutches from the Steelers' locker room. There you go, Cutler. Next time, try a full body cast.

The medicine has advanced. The understanding has progressed. Concussions aren't simply a case of a player getting his bell rung. The evidence, hard and anecdotal, is out there. Whether it's a former lineman concussed into dementia, or a former quarterback whose knees are so wrecked he can't escape an easy chair without help from a forklift, it's obvious what recklessness can do to a man's body.

Too bad the culture hasn't caught up with the science.

Overheated macho still rules in football. Got a bruise the size of Vermont on your thigh? Rub some dirt on it, tough guy. Got a bad muscle pull? Get "shot up,'' in players' parlance, and get back out there. Suck it up.

Cutler could have taken a Novocaine injection at halftime, if anyone had wanted to risk his career that way. But to shoot a guy up -- to numb an injury involving a ligament -- is foolish and unsafe. "There's real danger in continuing to play,'' says Dr. Timothy Kremchek, an orthopedic surgeon and the team doctor for the Cincinnati Reds.

"[Cutler] could be doing permanent, career-ending damage to himself and not even know it,'' Kremchek said.

Pain can be a good thing. It tells a person to stop what he's doing and get some help. Unless you're in the NFL, where men are men and the best way to prove it is to have 20 knee surgeries.

John Thornton, a former defensive tackle for the Bengals and Titans, said, "It's kind of hard to question a guy's courage when it comes to injuries. Everybody's tolerance level is different.''

JIM TROTTER: Don't question Cutler's toughness

Thornton tore his rotator cuff in the middle of his rookie year in Tennessee. His second season, he tore it again and chipped a bone in the same shoulder. He played through it. Thornton felt obligated to earn the money he was making. He also felt peer pressure: "We had Steve McNair on that team, and he was tougher than anybody,'' Thornton explained Monday. "If he wasn't missing games or taking plays off, nobody was.''

In Cincinnati, Thornton injured his clavicle in his third game as a Bengal. He was a high-priced, free-agent acquisition and again felt pressure to play. "I couldn't practice,'' Thornton recalled. "They injected me before every game. I couldn't even put my right hand on the ground. It was peer pressure. I felt like I couldn't let my coaches and teammates down.''

Attitudes change in a contract year, Thornton says. Players are more protective of themselves. No team is going to sign a player who is hurt, so players are more likely to sit with an injury than risk their next contract by taking one for the team. "It's like driving with no insurance,'' Thornton said. "At that point, it's a business decision. If you're in your walk year and get hurt, the team isn't obligated to pay you. Neither is anybody else.''

Yet even the cool-headed Thornton looked at Cutler's injury and said, "It makes [the knee] unstable. But you can play on it.''

Sure, why not? You're a quarterback and you can't run. You can't push off, meaning you can't get any power on your throws. Your fastball is suddenly junk. Very likely, your presence in the huddle is hurting your team more than it's helping.

But you are a man. An NFL man. You suck it up, shoot it up and take one for the team. You won't come off that field unless you crawl off.

Sometimes, evolution takes longer than it should.

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