"It doesn't mean anything, it's just something."
Those were the actual words NFL Countdown's Tom Jackson used to describe his displeasure with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler walking into Soldier Field Sunday morning without appearing to talk to someone within ESPN's camera shot. Jay Cutler has been criticized for a galaxy's worth of things in his career as an NFL quarterback, perhaps more than anyone else who has played the position in recent years. But even for Cutler, being bashed for something as normal as silently walking into the stadium is new ground.
It was a throwaway shot. A nothing moment. And yet, Tom Jackson took six seconds of footage of Jay Cutler walking through the bowels of Soldier Field completely out of context to make a negative insinuation about his character. Well, then again, Tom Jackson didn't really make any point at all as shown in the quote above. The footage obviously didn't mean anything, except it meant something to Jackson. Not even Confucius could attempt to rationalize that statement into a coherent thought.
How many times has ESPN used a player walking into a stadium as a screen filler on their pregame show? Hundreds, if not thousands. And yet, how many times has that moment been used as the impetus for criticism? By my count one - Tom Jackson's incredulous disbelief of Jay Cutler not asking the security guard how his Thanksgiving dinner turned out.
Jackson's commentary was also a throwaway moment, but it brings to light a much larger point that needs to be made about the power of narrative. As the 24/7 media cycle has taken hold in the last decade, "the narrative" has become its most significant force.
A simple narrative changes when you add the fancy quotes around it. A narrative is merely telling a story about someone. "The narrative" is the conventional wisdom about a person or entity that once established, cannot be changed. Once "the narrative" attaches itself to you, whatever you do must fit that conception of you. David Eckstein is scrappy. DeMarcus Cousins is a loose cannon. John Kerry is a flip flopper. Etcetera and etcetera.
But what "the narrative" often produces is a narrative fallacy or illusory correlation, where we create our own story to fit around certain events. (It's a Monday after a four day holiday weekend, so we might as well do some learning!) In a sense, we see what we expect to see with this phenomenon. Regardless of the actual facts, we place events into our predisposed judgment about that person whether those events truthfully fit or not.
This is what happened with Tom Jackson and Jay Cutler.
After sitting in the 2010 NFC Championship Game with a knee injury and frowning on the sidelines, "the narrative" took hold. Just how powerful is the story attached to Jay Cutler? Fox admitted to making up phony headlines last year to question Cutler's toughness. Think about how low that is. Earlier this year Cutler was destroyed for getting in the face of teammate J'Marcus Webb. USA Today said Cutler "has been known to throw a tantrum or two and get a little whiny at times." Please. Had that been Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he would have been showered with praise for showing tough love and leadership. A camera shot catches Cutler swearing or sulking and he's immediately criticized because it fits the narrative of Cutler as a pouter. A random quarterback with a more favorable narrative doing the exact same things at the exact same times would be cheered for showing his emotions on his sleeves.
"The narrative" on Jay Cutler is that he's a horrible person and teammate and lacks toughness. The facts don't necessarily play that out. Nevertheless, you're much more likely to see a ridiculous Cutler meme develop or jokes about his celebrity relationship instead of stories about his charity work in Kenya or what he actually means to the Bears.
So yesterday, it really wasn't a surprise to see Tom Jackson take advantage of a miniscule opening to rip Cutler for simply walking into a stadium without acting like he's running for public office. It fit the Cutler narrative. In truth, the power of "the narrative" needs to be held in check because it feeds on stereotypes, groupthink, and fallacies far too often. Relying on narratives takes the easy way out instead of seeking truthful and fresh insights. Relying on narratives leads someone to criticize a person for not walking into a stadium the right way.
I wonder if Tom Jackson caught Cutler tying Webb's shoe during Sunday's game. Maybe that was just something that didn't mean anything too.
he's there to play football,not make friends.his mindset is get on the field and do what he's gotta do,not worry about what someones opinion is of him.lt it go people.
Just because Jay doesn't dress like a pimp and strut in like a prince LET us ex jock talking heads jump him like "low hangiing fruit"...Terry, DeONN, Tom Jckson, Golich,
and the list of "jump on the pile, types is too long to mention now. Fucken A, it's about time some one other than 670 the score stuck up for Jay Cutler.
@awfulannouncing I cant decide if it's more infuriating that ESPN creates these "narratives" or that they decide 2 never try and change them
This is amazingly good RT @awfulannouncing Column - How Jay Cutler epitomizes the unholy power of "The Narrative" http://t.co/VPlZ8QCM
Worth a read RT @awfulannouncing Column - How Jay Cutler epitomizes the unholy power of "The Narrative" http://t.co/2u48RKzr
that was idiotic. as others have said, i cant even count how many times footage of athletes walking ive seen and ever, EVER paid attention to see if they greeted the staff.
The absurdity of trying to construct someone's character from a collection of on-camera moments is evident. The narrative around Cutler is like what the WWE builds up around 'bad guy' wrestlers to hype the drama. From objective evidence Cutler is as tough as any NFL player, wants to win, and shows flashes of athletic ability that few can. When your teammates unanimously support you, and don't question your desire or toughness that's a pretty good recommendation, and one that ought to outweigh just about everything else. If playing the game like it should be played really is the most important thing. As for the rest, as you allude to, he spends quite a bit of time helping people less fortunate, without making a big deal about it, as some seem wont to do. No one but Cutler knows how much all this nonsense bothers him, but he seems to be able to rise above it and not let it affect his professionalism. More power to him.
If that had been Manning walking in like that, Jackson would be oohing and aahing over how "focused" he was.
@awfulannouncing ESPN shows QBs walking into the stadium all the time. I don't remember any of them yacking it up along the way.
@awfulannouncing it's just Cutler's natural appeance. He looks sulky like Jim Brewer always looks stoned.