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Morrissey: Bears did Cutler no favors

Jay Cutler Chicago Bears sits sidelines second half NFC Championship Soldier Field Sunday Jan. 23 2011 Chicago. | John J.

Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears sits on the sidelines in the second half of the NFC Championship at Soldier Field, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 28, 2011 12:30AM

Image-wise, Jay Cutler made his own bed, but the Bears tucked him in every night the last two years.

General manager Jerry Angelo says winning is the only thing that matters in the NFL, which might explain why the team has done nothing in Cutler’s time here to give his poor public image a makeover.

This indeed is a victory business, but it’s also an entertainment business. On Sunday, the Bears needed to apply whatever public-relations expertise they possess. They failed.

Their disdain for anyone outside the organization explains why nobody thought to give broadcasters some idea of the seriousness of Cutler’s knee injury during the NFC Championship Game. And their fear of upsetting Cutler is why no one told him during the game to help out third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. Where were Smith or offensive coordinator Mike Martz to tell him to quit sulking and start being a good teammate?

Any PR person with a clue would have stepped in as the injury mystery deepened Sunday and said, ‘‘We can’t have this. Our star quarterback’s reputation is taking a beating. We’ve got to get ahead of this situation.’’

But nobody did step in. And NFL players with Twitter accounts continued to rip him. Cutler was a wimp, they tweeted. They were wrong, of course, but the damage to Cutler’s character was done.

Now the Bears know for sure that appearances do matter. The raging debate about Cutler’s injury, toughness and concern for teammates will never go away. Ask Scottie Pippen if he’d like those 1.8 seconds back.

From the top of the organization to the bottom, the Bears are scornful toward the media and thus toward the public. If the franchise couldn’t see that the reticent Smith was in desperate need of some PR intervention when he became head coach, then there was no way it was going to have the guts to tell Cutler to change his act when he arrived in Chicago.

The Bears seem much more concerned about limiting questions for Smith during news conferences than about putting the franchise in the best light.

All scorn, no softening

They shouldn’t be surprised about the uproar over Cutler. They’ve had ample opportunity to help soften his image, to give him media training, to impress upon him that how he carries himself does indeed matter. As far as anyone can tell, they didn’t.

In the short term, they could have softened the PR hit Sunday by informing the public right away that Cutler was injured seriously enough that he couldn’t possibly return — further, that it was amazing he even tried to play in the first series of the second half. But that would have been giving out state secrets, and once those got out, where would the Bears be? Prostrating themselves at the feet of the Hun Packers, that’s where.

Cutler’s return remained ‘‘questionable.’’ So did his courage.

An opportunity lost. Forever.

The Bears have such a widespread PR problem that when they finally announced Monday that Cutler had a Grade II tear of a knee ligament, some people wondered why there wasn’t a statement from one of the team doctors confirming the diagnosis. The Bears wouldn’t make up an injury to protect Cutler and the organization, would they?

That’s what happens when the entire thrust of a franchise is to keep people out. That’s how paranoid thinking wiggles to the surface.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the Bears made sure the car salesman with the Packers tie got fired. They didn’t. Right?

Bears want it both ways

If, as the Bears seem to believe, image doesn’t matter, then they shouldn’t be offended that outsiders see a different Cutler than the one they seem to know. They shouldn’t be offended when a national columnist comes to town, starts asking questions about the quarterback’s less-than-stellar reputation and writes about being greeted with a coldness normally associated with Siberia.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t act as if image is a superficial thing and then be upset when your quarterback’s public persona puts him somewhere between Sean Penn and Ty Cobb.

That the Bears don’t care about improving Cutler’s image is one thing, but it goes well beyond that. They’ve given him license to be the moody and aloof person he is or is perceived to be.

They’ve become enablers, either out of disdain for their audience or out of fear that what people have always said about the quarterback is true: He’s a head case.

Public relations matter. Maybe more people would have given Cutler the benefit of the doubt Sunday had they seen some improvement in his attitude the last two seasons.

But have you ever seen more professional athletes pile on another than the mob that landed on Cutler?

A sad sight. And it didn’t have to be that way.

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