After seeing the reaction all over ESPN and other outlets following the Chiefs-Ravens game, I have a feeling that I am going to be in the minority on the topic of Matt Cassel and the Kansas City fans.
Whatever the case, let me breakdown Eric Winston's (KC's starting right tackle) comments regarding Cassel and the reaction of the cheering fans in Kansas City following a hit that left Cassel lying on the ground concussed.
First, watch the play that led to Cassel's concussion (hopefully YouTube won't take it down; the NFL.com video doesn't show the live time response of the fans).
After checking down to Jamaal Charles — pretty much the only pass Cassel can make with consistency — Cassel was drilled by Haloti Ngata, a 6'4" 340 pound mammoth of a man. Trailing 9-3 at home in the fourth quarter, Charles went into Madden mode as he juked several defenders and picked up sixteen yards on the play for a first down.
After watching the replay over and over, it's clear that the fans are cheering as Cassel lies on the ground. However, how and or why they are cheering is unknown. They definitely cheer for Charles and his clutch play late in the game. But, the cheers continue long after the play concludes, and noticeably as Cassel lies on the ground. Once the public address announcer states, "Injury timeout," there is a noticeable drop in the decibel level from the stands, thus further complicating matters of intent.
So what were the fans thinking in that thirty second span following the tackle on Charles and the PA announcing "Injury timeout"?
While the cheering seems to all blend together, there definitely seems to be a portion of time that represents a cheer for Cassel's injury. I can't defend this, and I won't try to defend it.
However, I can pick apart Eric Winston and his comments. Watch his reaction in the locker room following the game.
Pretty much, I disagree with a lot of his points. I agree with his moral take on the situation — that it's wrong to cheer when an athlete is injured, regardless of what team he plays for — however, I believe that Winston fails to take into account the fan's perspective, especially his home fans.
Essentially, I believe that those cheers would have occurred if Cassel had been subbed out due to his shoddy play. Unfortunately, head coach Romeo Crennel didn't have the guts to sit his faltering quarterback, and instead, an injury made the decision for him.
This distinction is important. It comes down to one of two options, and one is indefensible, while the other is easily defensible. Either you believe the fans were cheering because Cassel got hurt, or you believe the fans were cheering because Cassel would no longer play the position of quarterback. The two may go hand in hand, but the intent of each situation is rather different.
Although Brady Quinn isn't really that great of an option to replace Cassel, something needs to be done. Here are Cassel's stats so far this season: a 58.5% completion percentage, 1,150 yards, five touchdowns, an NFL high nine interceptions, a 66.2 passer rating (158.3 is perfect), and a 45.77 ESPN total quarterback rating (out of 100). Don't forget the 1-4 record, and in the Baltimore game, Cassel was 9-15 for 92 yards and two interceptions — pedestrian to say the least. By the end of the game, the Chiefs finished with 50 total rushing attempts compared to just 18 passing attempts. It's safe to say that the quarterback position is holding the Chiefs back.
So were the fans malicious, or just fed up? Maybe one doesn't exist without the other.
Other than a surprising 2010 campaign in which Cassel made the Pro Bowl and the Chiefs made it to the playoffs, the Chiefs have been nothing but a doormat in the NFL. Cassel's record so far in Kansas City is 19-25 throughout four seasons, and 10 of those wins came in 2010.
I tend to think the fans were fed up, and that is something Eric Winston certainly doesn't seem to agree with. Winston clearly believes that the fans were malicious.
So let's breakdown his comments.
Winston opens with this statement, "We are athletes, we are not gladiators, this isn't the Roman Coliseum."
Winston makes this claim in an attempt to shame the fans into regretting the fact that we enjoy the bloodsport of the NFL.
I strongly object Winston's initial claim. To me, the NFL is setup in the fashion of a modern day gladiator battle. I understand this, and this does not bother me. The violence and spectacle of it all clearly borrows from the Roman Coliseum. The entertainment value of the gladiators in Ancient Rome laid the groundwork for the NFL to become the biggest sports league in America. The gladiator games had owners, players, pairs (like a team), trainers, sponsors, advertisements, tickets, amphitheaters, spectators, and an immense popularity. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?
Now, your first thought is, "But the NFL doesn't feature executions!" You are right, however, the NFL does feature delayed death sentences, CTE anyone? In fact, Winston even states, "There are long lasting ramifications to the game we play [...] I've already come to the understanding I won't live as long because I play this game, and that's okay. That's a choice I've made, that's a choice all of us have made." So yes, the instant ramifications of the gladiatorial games are not present, but make no mistake, over time, the NFL isn't really all that different from those violent spectacles in Ancient Rome.
Winston continues, "People pay their hard earned money to come in here, and I believe they can boo, they can cheer, they can do whatever they want [...] It's hard economic times, and they still pay the money to do this."
This statement pretty much speaks for itself. Yes, cheering as an injured player lies on the ground is classless, but as Winston stated, the fans are free to do what they want. According to reports by the Fan Cost Experience, an average family of four (two adults, two children) will spend $360.68 to attend a Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. Depending upon a number of conditions, that number can rise dramatically, or fall slightly. In today's economy, that's a lot of money, and Winston understands this. Without the fans, there is no need to play on Sundays. Does this give the fans the right to do whatever they want to do with their voices? Well, yes it does. It may not be right, but money paid equals rights gained.
Winston follows up his previous point with this sentiment, "When you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel, it's sickening, it's one hundred percent sickening [...] I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football."
I have one major issue with this statement. I cannot defend the actions of the fans if they were in fact cheering due to Cassel's injury. If there was malicious intent, and for a few, I'm sure there was, the situation is sickening, no doubt about it. Winston's thought process cannot be scrutinized here. The fact that it was a home crowd makes the situation even worse. It wasn't just blind hate, it was calculated.
But you have to wonder, why was it calculated? I have a strong suspicion that those fans wouldn't have been cheering if that was Brady, Rodgers, Manning, Ryan, or any other decent starting quarterback lying on the ground. For Winston to casually slip in, "It just so happened to be Matt Cassel" is a total disregard of the fans' intelligence and allegiance. In my opinion, if it was Winston lying on the field, there probably wouldn't have been a sound made. If anything, the cheers stem from Cassel's substandard play. There's a distinct difference in cheering due to an injury, and cheering due to a change at the quarterback position. Talent often dictates appreciation, and lacking talent doesn't give the fans the right to boo an injured player, but I can see why they would be excited about a change at the quarterback position.
If coach Crennel had subbed Cassel out in favor of Quinn, I have a feeling that the cheers would have been much louder. Cassel didn't deserve to be on the field at that point, and if he had been on the sideline where he belonged, he wouldn't have been knocked out. On 25 different Sundays, Cassel has displayed his inability to lead the Chiefs to a win. The fans know this. Their jeers toward Cassel may have come at the wrong time, but they came for a reason. Football is not about displaying excellent moments of humanity, it's about winning. The fans voiced their displeasure in a vulnerable moment, and it's difficult to defend such an occurrence, but in a similar manner, it's understandable. Winston doesn't want to throw his quarterback under the bus, but he can't argue with the statistics.
In an unintentional comedic moment, Winston later stated, "Matt Cassel hasn't done anything." I certainly felt a small grin come over my face when I heard that statement. Winston continued, "[Cassel] hasn't done anything to you people."
Ohhhh! That's right. Listen, Cassel may be a standup guy, but once again, is this about being nice, or is it about results? Nice doesn't win football games. Winston's defense of Cassel is admirable, and Cassel deserves a defense in terms of being a fellow human, but other than that, nobody cares. He's a football player, not a civilian.
Winston continues, "Hey, if he's not the best quarterback, then he's not the best quarterback, and that's okay, but he's a person."
Your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs everybody. Sounds a lot like parents at a youth soccer game. Don't voice your displeasure, he's a person. Mediocrity is acceptable, he's a person. A person doesn't deserve such treatment. I wonder if that sentiment works anywhere else in life? "Boss, I couldn't get the job done. [Boss yells], [Employee responds] I'm a person!"
In one sense, Winston is totally right. Cassel doesn't deserve to be cheered because he's injured and can no longer play. But in another sense, come on, this is football! This is about playing to win, Herm Edwards surely agrees. Winston's moral claim is fine, but his athletic claim is rather disappointing. He sounds like a member of a 1-4 team that has been a doormat for three of the past four years. This is Winston's first year as a member of the Chiefs, maybe he's unaware of the passion Kansas City has for its team.
Winston concludes, "If you are one of those people that were out there cheering, or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it's sickening and disgusting [...] Don't blame a guy, don't cheer for a guy [who is injured] who has done everything in his power to play as good as he can for the fans. It's sickening."
Winston finishes strong with this thoughtful statement. I believe that Winston would have been better served solely releasing this statement — it's succinct, doesn't provide excuses, doesn't admonish the entire fan base, and addresses the moral dilemma at hand.
Hats off to Eric Winston and his humane beliefs, but NFL players are paid to perform. Up to this point, Cassel has largely failed to play up to expectation. If Cassel had nine touchdowns this season instead of nine interceptions, these events would have never happened. We all know that favorites tend to get a break; that doesn't make things right, but it's the truth.
Life is bigger than football, but sometimes it's hard to remember that when you are surrounded by a sea of 76,000 fans that only want to watch their team win.
So are the fans excused for their actions? No. But can I understand why they did what they did? Yes.
Better luck next week Kansas City. Hey, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are studs. If you ever find a good quarterback, you have a strong foundation for success.
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