Cover sports for 25-plus years and you will see athletes react to injuries in every possible way. You learn pretty quickly not to question their integrity on that subject. It is fundamental. Their bodies are their livelihoods. Only they know how they feel, whether they can be effective and how to calculate the risk and reward of playing hurt.
A couple of years ago, I covered the AFC championship game between the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots in Foxborough. Philip Rivers, the Chargers QB, had torn his anterior cruciate ligament in a playoff game the week before. He had decided to stabilize the knee with a brace and play for a chance to reach the Super Bowl.
The Patriots won that game, but my column focused on Rivers, on his toughness and his team-first attitude. So yes, we tend to glorify the athletes who play hurt, who push their bodies and achieve great things.
That doesn't mean it's OK to rip guys who don't.
It is understandable that Bears fans could look at Cutler standing on the sideline and be frustrated. And it is probably understandable if they express that frustration on Twitter and Facebook. That is the modern equivalent of yelling at your TV or venting to your buddies at the bar.
But for other players to question Cutler's heart and desire is truly remarkable and really discouraging.
Smith, his coach, said he was "surprised. I haven't seen it before. Seems like if you were in that fraternity, you would be stepping up for your fellow man, especially when you don't know."
But no. Maybe it's because Cutler isn't the most likable guy in the world. More likely, it's because social networking gives us access to off-the-cuff remarks that players would probably have been making privately. But this was a regrettable departure from that fraternal code.
"If he was my teammate I would be looking at him sideways," Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel wrote on his Twitter feed. Later, he added, "Man shoot that . . . up with a needle. He ain't got to do much jus drop back and throw the ball."
Samuel had his chance to make Cutler look bad on the field during the regular season. But that was one of the three games Samuel missed with a sprained knee. Good thing none of his teammates were looking at him sideways.
Samuel wasn't alone, though. Former players Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks ripped Cutler on Twitter. So did current players Raheem Brock, Kerry Rhodes, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darnell Dockett.
Cutler was perhaps the first player in NFL history who went in for an MRI hoping the test showed a more serious injury. A full reconstruction would have made his detractors look even stupider. As it was, a sprained MCL sounds like something a lot of players would have tried to play through.
Better to trust the words of Bears center Olin Kreutz, whose toughness one should question at one's own risk. Kreutz knows Cutler. Kreutz saw Cutler's leg wobbling visibly as he tried to return to action.
Given that Cutler was sacked an absurd 52 times during the regular season, mobility is more than a part of his game. It's vital to his survival. Trying to cope with the Packers' pass rush on one good leg would have subjected him to risk of more serious injury. It also would have made him ineffective, which is largely why he was replaced.
Cutler wasn't effective before getting hurt. It is fair to criticize him for that. If he'd fought to stay in the game and rallied his team, then he probably would have been praised the way Rivers was two years ago.
But this avalanche of scorn is really something new. And it's sad. The technology at work here is the product of genius. Unfortunately, it can be used to expose complete idiocy.
Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.