I have the sort of face that causes total strangers to ask me if I'm okay. It's encouraging in the grand humanist scheme of things, I guess, but it's also awkward and depressing, since when I tell them truthfully no, I'm fine, thanks, what it ultimately means is no, I'm fine, that's just how my face works. Then I'm reminded that everyone I've ever met—including my wife, the first time—almost always perceives me as being terribly unhappy, which then ruins my mood. I could try smiling, but then I'd look unhappy and in pain.
So I have a lot of sympathy for Jay Cutler and his famous frown. And for the fact that he's the least-popular quarterback in the NFL behind a recently benched convicted dogfighter and the charming bust who went one pick ahead of him in the 2006 draft. And I support him against PR consultants who'd have him calculatedly drop his privacy and concentrate on his body language in order to burnish his image, as the managing editor of PR Daily suggests today in ChicagoSide Sports:
This negativity is hurting Brand Cutler, and several PR professionals said it could affect his earning potential—and his legacy. “For better or for worse, we’re in a society that is image driven,” said Gregory Lee Hendricks, an executive at sports and entertainment marketing firm Matter in Chicago. “Athletes are brands, much more so than in the past.”
No, it's for worse. The only thing worse than people pestering me about my mood is being simultaneously pestered about my mood and the fact that I don't live up to my earning potential. I can't imagine what that would be like if you're someone anyone actually notices.
He gets dissed for not making a big enough deal about his charity work; for answering a question honestly (that he was voting for Romney in Obama's hometown… but c'mon, he's from southwestern Indiana, he's not going to turn into a lakefront liberal overnight); for saying the right things with the wrong body language; and for "looking aloof" and "scowling." Maybe he'd scowl less if he had a better offensive line; I tend to scowl when I'm about to get crushed by my work, and for me that's reassuringly metaphorical.
Brand Cutler’s rehab can start small. “Cutler needs to be aware of his body language—that would go a long way,” Hendricks said. “If you read an interview, he’s saying the right things.” Beyond his gestures and facial expressions, Cutler, who is an intensely private person, needs to introduce himself to the public. “Jay does a lot of great things,” said Chicago-based media relations specialist Bobby Chilver. “He does a lot of work with the diabetes foundations; he’s gone to Kenya.”
Emphasis mine. I actually admire this about Cutler: he seems perfectly content in his ambivalence towards his public image, and not with a gimmicky, Nike-marketing-campaign insouciance. It really seems like honest-to-goodness authentic ambivalence—to Brand Cutler, to corporations that would pay him to be friendly, to a city that might legitimately adore him but could just as easily encroach on his tightly held privacy.
It might be costing him. It might also be worth the money.
Among the advice given to Cutler is to let journalists in—hey, I'm free and have deep sympathy towards ambivalence. But the journalist he should really welcome for a profile is Richard Ben Cramer, who wrote one of the most famous pieces of sports journalism of all time about one of the most famously ornery athletes of all time.
Ted was never the kind to quail. In this epic battle, as in the million smaller face-offs that are his history, his instinct called for exertion, for a show of force that would shut those bastards up. That was always his method as he fought opposing pitchers, and fielders who bunched up on him, eight on one half of the field; as he fought off the few fans who booed him and thousands who thought he ought to love them, too; as he fought through, alas, three marriages; as he fought to a bloody standoff a Boston press that covered, with comment, his every sneeze and snort. He meant to dominate, and to an amazing extent, he did. But he came to know, better than most men, the value of his time. So over the years, Ted Williams learned to avoid annoyance. Now in his seventh decade, he had girded his penchants for privacy and ease with a bristle of dos and don'ts that defeat casual intrusion. He is a hard man to meet.
Then, maybe, we can answer the question: What do you think of Jay Cutler now?
Photograph: Chicago Tribune