Rick Reilly has done the impossible.
No, he hasn’t written a new version of Leatherheads that doesn’t, you know, completely suck. Reilly has made Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into a sympathetic — and thus likable — figure.
Cutler had given us not much to feel good about in five NFL seasons. Apart from playing much of the 2007 season with undiagnosed Type I diabetes (we’d hate to see how long it would have taken to catch the disease if he didn’t work for a company that has a team of doctors available at any given moment), Cutler hasn’t done much of anything that makes many people want to buy his jersey and/or see him be successful.
Suddenly, however, we want the guy to be successful. Personally, I want to see him win the Super Bowl.
And it’s all Rick Reilly’s fault.
When last mentioned on these pages, Reilly was being castigated by Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports for recklessly characterizing some of the nuances of a morning jog on the cobblestones of Pamplona next to a battalion of large, horned mammals. Though Reilly’s latest effort won’t potentially place anyone who relies on the accuracy of his words in danger (grave or otherwise), it represents the kind of superficially-reasoned bias that clumsily hides a deeper agenda.
Reilly makes it clear that he doesn’t like Cutler. But it’s unclear why. Maybe Cutler didn’t act sufficiently impressed with the guy who allowed himself to believe that being a damn good back-page-of-SI columnist meant that he had the chops to write movies (he doesn’t) or host SportsCenter (he definitely doesn’t). Maybe “Riles” is simply doing a solid for his old buddy John Elway, persuading Broncos fans to quit moping and whining about the decision to trade Cutler and to start looking ahead to the future. Or maybe Reilly was looking to mail one in during playoff week, and Cutler provided the easiest target for Reilly’s periodic quota of word salad.
Reilly’s complaints at times are too petty to even be called petty. He seems to chastise Cutler for handling his charitable works the way that many are taught to handle such business, without seeking publicity, attention, or recognition for their efforts.
“He’s a giving person who does things behind the scenes and hates it when he gets found out,” Reilly writes. “A few days before Christmas, he and [girlfriend Kristin] Cavallari brought presents for an entire ward of sick hospital kids. A reporter for the Sun-Times got wind of it and asked him about it. Cutler refused to discuss it.”
If that paragraph had appeared in a positive, or even balanced, look at Cutler, there would be nothing significant about it. In the context of Reilly’s column, it comes off as a complaint that Cutler should be more like the athletes who love to talk to others about all the nice things that they do.
More than ever, with five episodes of ProFootballTalk Live to produce each week, we realize the importance of content to a media operation. But we wish more NFL athletes would choose not to wear their charitable acts like logos sewn onto their jerseys.
Reilly also knocks Cutler for not basking in the limelight that comes with being an NFL quarterback. “Cutler could own Chicago if he wanted,” Reilly says. “In a city that has had as many good quarterbacks as Omaha has had good surfers, Cutler could have his name on half the billboards and all the jerseys. My God, the kid grew up a Bears fan! But he doesn’t even try. He has zero endorsements and doesn’t want any. If there is such a thing as a Jay Cutler Fan Club, Cutler is having a membership drive — to drive them out.”
Reilly’s effort to paint Cutler in a bad light has backfired like a ’71 Vega, exposing more about Reilly than he ever would want his audience to know. To Reilly, pro athletes should seek out as much attention as possible. To Reilly, pro athletes should lend their names and likeness to any and all companies that will pay them even more money and provide them even more attention. To Reilly, pro athletes should do charitable works in that same spotlight, so that everyone will see it and, in turn, love them.
Well, at least we now understand why Reilly attempted to leverage one thing he does really well into a multi-platform gig at ESPN that promised more money, more fame, and more chances to let the world know that he does charitable works, too.