Down and Distance
Wimps and Leaders: Barack Obama, Jay Cutler, and quarterbacking a nation
Like President Obama, I’m an avowed Chicago Bears fan. When the team’s arch-rivals, the hated Green Bay Packers, made the annual trip to the White House earlier this month as the Super Bowl champs, Obama was presented with a ceremonial share of stock in the Packers, the NFL’s only publicly-owned team. The President made a joke that, as a partial owner of the team, his first order of business would be to trade the team’s Super Bowl MVP quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to Chicago.
It doesn’t really matter what a guy is experiencing, or if he’s making a decision to sit on the bench instead of playing because it gives his team the best shot to win the game. Americans don’t much give a shit about that stuff.
It was a corny joke, the sort of dad-humor that politicians engage in to remind people that they’re human. Of course, since Chicago already has a quarterback, the White House quickly offered clarification on the President’s statements (seriously!): “The President understands the value of having a reliable backup QB – and would make it more likely that he could greet the Bears at a similar ceremony at the White House next year.”
The Bears’ starter is Jay Cutler, possibly the most reviled player in the league, at least among guys who’ve never been accused of rape or convicted of dog fighting. It didn’t seem unlikely that the President would take a shot at the Bears’ starter, given how many other people have done so. And while Obama’s clarification smoothed things over in Chicago, I didn’t quite buy that it wasn’t a dig. As a Bears fan, I’d have never thought to make that joke. And Obama – that guy should be especially careful when taking what sure looks like a shot at a guy like Cutler, because most of the things that people have said about Jay are the things they’re starting to whisper about the President.
I’m not sure where Maurice Jones-Drew stands on the debt ceiling negotiations, though
To be clear: I’m a fan of Cutler’s, and of President Obama’s. I think most of the shit that Cutler’s gotten after he sat out the second half of the Bears’ NFC Championship Game appearance last January is wrong-headed and reveals a level of boorishness among NFL fans that would be shocking if it weren’t also totally expected. The guy had a serious knee sprain that prevented him from being able to plant his foot to throw the ball. During the game, other players took to Twitter to complain that Cutler didn’t make the appropriate frowny face to accompany his injury, and afterward, people compared him unfavorably to Chargers QB Philip Rivers, who played in the AFC Championship Game three years prior with a torn anterior crucial ligament.
What those who laud the tough-guy demeanor of Rivers for playing through the pain forget, though, is that the Chargers lost that game 21-12; Rivers completed barely half of his passes, and threw two interceptions and no touchdowns. Still, Cutler’s a wimp and a crybaby and a loser, or whatever – if you look at the player ratings in Madden 12, every single other quarterback in the game has a higher rating in the toughness category. Look at the sort of headlines you get on Google when you search "cutler wimp." Yow!
Because it doesn’t really matter what a guy is experiencing, or if he’s making a decision to sit on the bench instead of playing because it gives his team the best shot to win the game. Americans don’t much give a shit about that stuff – what we care about is if the guy looks like a leader, damn it, and when people picture “leader,” they don’t picture Jay Cutler sitting on the sideline with a bored look on his face, like he’s waiting in line at the DMV.
Sportswriters hate Cutler, too – ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote a whole column about what a dick the guy is, citing such pearl-clutchingly awful traits as refusing to publicize the charity work that he does and declining to take endorsement deals. We have an idea of what a leader is, and it’s not some awkward weirdo who watches his team from the sidelines and doesn’t strut around the set while he’s filming TV commercials like Peyton Manning. But that’s bad news for Obama, too.
They’re not saying “boo,” they’re saying “Oooobama”
The Pew Research Center released a major new poll about the economy and the President’s leadership last week. It’s neither great nor awful, for the most part people are polarizing as the silly season of the Republican primaries picks up. His strongly disapprove numbers are up among people who would never have voted for him anyway; people are still into the way he’s handling terrorism; and there’s a ten-point swing in the number of people who want him to challenge the GOP more often. And what’s most interesting is that those numbers are growing even among Republicans.
And that’s the thing that the President ought to be aware of, even as he’s making jokes about the Bears’ quarterback: the perception of what a leader is supposed to be, the thing that’s made Jay Cutler so unpopular, isn’t relegated to football. It’s less about the on-field actions of the QB and a whole lot more about what we expect from the people who are supposed to be in charge. Americans are much more interested in Philip Rivers hopping out on one leg and blowing a chance at the Super Bowl than they are in Jay Cutler sitting on the sideline hoping that his backup gets the job done.
And just because we all seemed exhausted after eight years of an antagonistic President in George W. Bush, making room for Obama’s editor-of-Harvard Law Review approach to governing, doesn’t mean that we’ve actually changed the things we want from a leader. Jay Cutler will have to win a Super Bowl before people finally shut up about his lack of toughness, and he’s in a position where his own team’s fans would never wish out loud for another guy taking his job; President Obama doesn’t have a Cutler-like image problem yet, but if he wants to avoid developing one, the polls sure suggest that he needs to get his ass off of the sideline.