Eric Winston has opinions on lots of things, and he's not afraid to express them. It's what made him a favorite of most of the media and a large portion of the fan base during his time in Houston. Eric Winston was an open book, and for better or worse, Texan fans felt like they knew him.
Winston has since moved on; he is now a Kansas City Chief. Chiefs fans who felt like maybe they were still getting to know Winston became well acquainted with him Sunday afternoon, particularly those Chiefs fans who openly cheered when quarterback Matt Cassel lay splattered and concussed on the Arrowhead Stadium turf.
Cassel is Winston's quarterback, for better or worse. That's his guy. With Cassel throwing nine interceptions in five games and fumbling at the goal line in Sunday's 9-6 loss to the Ravens, there's been a lot more "worse" than "better," and it all came to a head Sunday afternoon.
Cassel made mistakes, got his brains scrambled, fans applauded (well before he got up), and about 45 minutes later, Winston unloaded on the bloodthirsty approvers in the locker room with this tirade:
"We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Coliseum. People pay their hard-earned money when they come in here and I believe they can boo, they can cheer and they can do whatever they want, I believe that. We are lucky to play this game. People, it's hard to economic times, and they still pay the money to do this.
But when somebody gets hurt, there are long lasting ramifications to the game we play, long lasting ramifications to the game we play. I've already kinda come to the understanding that I won't live as long because I play this game and that's OK, that's a choice I've made and a choice all of us have made.
But when you cheer, 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 100 percent sickening. I've been in some rough times on some rough teams, I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there.
I get emotional about it because these guys, they work their butts off. Matt Cassel hasn't done anything to you people, hasn't done anything to you people. Hasn't done anything to the media writers that kill him, hasn't done anything wrong to the people that come out here and cheer him. Hey, if he's not the best quarterback then he's not the best quarterback and that's OK. But he's a person. And he got knocked out in a game and we have 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out?
Boo him all you want. Boo me all you want. Throw me under the bus. Tell me I'm doing a bad job. Say I gotta protect him more. Do whatever you want. Say whatever you want. But if you are one of those people, 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. We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Coliseum. This is a game.
I'll sit here and I'll answer all your questions for the next 30 minutes if you want to ask them and I'll take all the responsibility I can take because I deserve it but don't blame a guy, and don't cheer for a guy who has done everything in his power to play as good as he can for the fans.
It's sickening. And I was embarrassed. I want every single one of you people to put this on your station and in your newspapers because I want every fan to know that. This is a game that's going to cost us a lot down the road. That's OK. We picked it, we deserve it and I don't want your pity. But we have a lot of problems as a society if people think that's OK.
I'll get off my soap box and you guys can ask any football question you want."
I've talked to dozens of NFL players, privately and on my radio show, and if there's one common disconnect between the players and the fans in general, it's that the players can't comprehend why the fans don't emote over them as if they were "real people," as opposed to "gladiators," to use Winston's word. The players put in countless hours of work, risk taking years off of their lives, guarantee that the years they do spend on this earth are pain-filled from the punishment they take, and yet the fans boo. Worse, as witnessed today, fans cheer when underperformers get injured.
Players are baffled by this. Arian Foster lamented this exact thing last season. When he was dealing with his early-season hamstring injury in 2011, fans would ask him how the healing was coming along -- not because they cared about him personally, but because they had their fantasy drafts coming up. This bugged the shit out of him, made him feel like a "piece of meat."
What the players don't realize is that there is a large portion of NFL fans who will spend a total of somewhere between zero and two minutes their whole lives interacting personally with an NFL player, and to these fans the NFL is just another television drama. The emotional investment is acute and real, but the characters (in this case, the players and coaches) are not real at all.
I don't say this to justify what those Chiefs fans who cheered Cassel's injury did Sunday. I'm not a "boo at a game" guy, and I do appreciate what these guys put their bodies through. Matt Cassel isn't a character in a drama to me, he's a real person.
My point, though, is this -- while I can appreciate what Winston said and agree with it, the fans whom he was addressing with his blistering rant are not likely to change their modus operandi. They're still emotionally invested in such a warped way that they now see Eric Winston as either (a) a "backstabbing interloper" character introduced in the fifth episode of their favorite drama, "Kansas City Chiefs 2012 Season," or (b) an actor breaking the fourth wall telling them to be nice to one of the fictional characters in their drama (the character of "Matt Cassel"), which to rabid Chiefs fans would be as ridiculous as James Gandolfini getting angry with Sopranos fans over cheering the death of Phil Leotardo in the series finale because it would be mean to cheer someone dying.
For what it's worth, I went to Twitter after Winston's comments to see what the vibe was among fans. Social media is a fantastic, if somewhat inexact, tool to gauge public sentiment. As best I can tell, Winston's mentions on his timeline broke down as follows (actual examples included, and percentages are
total guesses estimates):
"We're behind you 100 percent, Eric," 61.3 percent
@ericwinston just wanted to say God Bless you for speaking your mind!! What you said was 100% correct!! I'm now your biggest fan
— Jake Simmons (@Jsimm316) October 8, 2012
"You can't come here and talk about us like that, outsider.." (The Norman Dale tweet), 10.6 percent
@ericwinston don't think you can just come from Houston and insult chiefs fans in your 1st year. It doesn't work like that
— Navid Rafizadeh™ (@Persian_Prince_) October 7, 2012
"You misinterpreted what we were cheering for!" (The "They're Not Booing, They're Looouuuuing" tweet), 9.4 percent
@ericwinston there was ppl cheering the Cassel injury, there was more people cheering that he got up, and even more just happy to see Quinn
— Sheldon Wilkening⚾ (@Swilk15) October 8, 2012
"Your Membership in Chiefs Nation....REVOKED", 7.7 percent
@ericwinston After blasting kc fans you can feel free to demand a trade.You're not welcome in chiefs nation anymore.
— Official Trubl Zone (@TheTrublZone) October 8, 2012
"Yeah, we're embarrassed, too!" ("Now you know how we feel.." tweet), 5.7 percent
@ericwinston Trust me, however embarassed you are about the cheering, we are more embarassed about how horrible you guys are.
— brad shelor (@Bnorris04) October 8, 2012
Texan fans who miss Winston's musk, 3.4 percent
@ericwinston kudos to you Eric. We miss you in Houston. You are truly one of the good guys in the league.
— Jacob Williams (@jdub0221) October 7, 2012
ALL CAPS tweeter (NOTE: These people definitely cheered the Cassel injury), 1.8 percent
@ericwinston you FUCKING PUSSY! Chiefs fans don't applaud injuries-you DUMBASS! They pay WAY TOO MUCH MONEY to watch INCOMPETENCE!
— Les Ismore (@PHYXIUSmaximus) October 8, 2012
Raider fans, 0.1 percent
— Ace Sanchez (@acedawg87) October 7, 2012
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
So Winston said his piece. If nothing else, his quarterback knows he has his back. I guess my recommendation to Winston would be to never sign with the Eagles. You'll lose your voice ranting at twisted fans by Week Three.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.