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NFL players who mocked Cutler’s injury via Twitter crossed the line

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

And all this time I thought it was the media and the fans who didn’t get it, who couldn’t begin to understand what it’s like to compete in the athletic arena, where sweat and blood are proof of being called to something nobler.

That’s what players, coaches, general managers and Teddy Roosevelt have been telling us forever — that the only way we ignorant civilians could be more uninformed about true competition is if we lived in a bunker without ESPN.

But as it turns out, given a ­Twitter account, an NFL player can be like any slob with a newspaper column, blog, Facebook page or fleeting thought crying out for an audience.

It turns out that there’s nothing sacred about being a professional athlete. It gives you no more ­sympathy for your fellow multimillionaire warrior than for anyone else. It makes you as common, low and unfeeling as the rest of us.

Jay Cutler is a wimp, a slacker, a quitter.

That’s not my opinion. It’s what some of Cutler’s fellow NFL players tweeted after he left Sunday’s NFC Championship Game with a knee injury.

There was a lot of indignation inside Halas Hall on Monday about a line having been crossed. That line says, “Players don’t publicly question other players’ toughness.’’

A ‘fraternity’ matter

“I haven’t seen it before,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said of the breach in decorum. “It seems like if you’re in that fraternity, you would be stepping up for your fellow man, especially when you don’t know what was going on.’’

If Cutler couldn’t play in the biggest game of his life, clearly something was seriously wrong with the guy. Say all you want about his attitude — and I have — but you can’t question his toughness, not if you saw the pounding he took early this season, thanks to an offensive line constructed of balsa wood.

But via Twitter, some NFL ­players and former players ­questioned Cutler’s toughness almost immediately after he left the game early in the third quarter. Immediacy is the key here because during the game, no one knew the severity of his injury.

But that didn’t stop Cutler’s brethren from calling him a wuss.

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett: “If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!’’

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison: “If my knee was hurt or acl/mcl/pcl sprain, I would not be standing on the sideline.’’

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew: “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.’’

Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski: “Is cutler still ur starter next year? Did the players give up on him?’’

All together now: Who the hell is Bruce Gradkowski?

We know now that Cutler has a Grade II tear of his left medial collateral ligament. It means that he’d be out two to four weeks if the Bears were still playing.

And it means that if anyone should know not to question an ­athlete’s injury, it’s another athlete.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face,’’ Bears safety Chris Harris said. “It’s kind of an unwritten code for players not to bash another player based on an injury. It’d be easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Hey, Maurice Jones-Drew, you should have played your last two games of the season, even though you had an injury and your team was still fighting for a playoff spot.’

“I could say that, but I’m not ­going to do it.’’

Of course not.

Is it even their business?

Harris tried to say that the ­perception of Cutler as lacking toughness comes from the media, but it was Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher who called Cutler a meaner word for “soft’’ in 2009. Urlacher’s opinion of the quarterback came from former Bears teammate Bobby Wade during a radio interview.

The bigger point is that Jones-Drew and the others were ­commenting about somebody else’s business — a business that had nothing to do with them.

“I think it’s crap,’’ Bears ­general manager Jerry Angelo said. “I thought they were a union. If that’s the way they unionize themselves, they’ve got bigger issues than the one they have with the owners.

“I’m very disappointed in that. That to me is dirty pool.’’

Roosevelt famously said that the critic doesn’t count and that “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again.’’

But what if the criticism comes from someone in the arena, ­someone who has sweated and bled, someone who has erred and come up short?

And what if that someone has a Twitter account?

Bad things, man. Only bad things.

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