Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aftermath of AFC, NFC Championship Games ... TV Shapes Perception, Allows Personality to Shine

Credit television for shaping two of the biggest stories that emerged from the NFL's conference championship weekend -- although one of those stories clearly overshadowed the other and remains a hot-button topic.

Because TV cameras found Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seemingly disinterested on the sideline when he exited the NFC Championship Game with the knee injury, it has been much easier for former players and pundits to pummel the dour-faced Cutler with criticism. He's been called soft, categorized as a quitter who let his team down by not performing while hurt.

Never mind that his teammates immediately supported him after the game and praised his commitment and toughness. Thanks to a social media onslaught that started during the game, Cutler has been buried.

Even information about the specifics of the injury has been questioned. As a result, measured or reasonable voices in the discussion have been rare. And those repeated TV shots of Cutler isolating himself on the sideline and not initially staying engaged with play calling were just as damning as the criticisms of former players.

In fact, when you consider some of the players questioning Cutler's toughness (especially Hall-of-Fame caliber but legendarily light-hitting cornerback Deion Sanders), the TV shots might have more credibility than the criticisms themselves. Still, that's the power of TV.

Ironically, another championship game loser, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, played extremely well on TV. In his case, there was no perception, just reality, because he was not just caught on camera -- he was able to speak his mind.

Despite his team losing the AFC Championship Game, Ryan represented his organization better during the brief post-game interview than he had at many more highly publicized moments of the season. Credit Steve Tasker of CBS Sports with asking soft but strong questions. And credit Ryan for answering completely and honestly, coming across as determined, human and proud. In those moments, if you were not a Jets fan, you could be jealous of them because of the way their coach represented them.

What made Ryan's performance even better was that it came in a forum -- the post-game interview with the losing coach -- that usually produces grunts, groans and stand-pat answers to softball questions. This time it was different. It was better TV, too.

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