Image experts divided on Cutler’s next step

Jay Cutler.

That name probably just prompted some type of reaction in your brain, whether it’s anger at the Bears quarterback for sitting out most of the second half in a loss to the Packers in the NFC championship game, or compassion that there’s so much anger directed at a player who suffered a knee injury and couldn’t go on.

Or maybe you’re just bemoaning the fact that there are still stories being written about the beating Cutler took on the field, off the field and especially online — Twitter, hello — by athletes and fans alike.

“There was so much trash talk on Twitter especially; it can really damage a reputation and ruin a career … in moments,” said Jill Bremer of Jill Bremer Executive Coaching, an image consulting company based in Oak Park.

“Fans are ruthless,” said Mike Paul, president of MGP and Associates PR. “They have extremely high expectations. They expect you to be Superman and never be hurt.

“No matter what the injury is, they want you to go back, be iced up, toughen up and walk back out there five minutes later. Not every injury are you able to do that with.”

Regardless, the lines have apparently been drawn.

It seems fans are, in the immortal words of former fiery Cubs manager Lee Elia, really, really behind Cutler or really really against him.

So what’s a guy to do?

Laying low might be a good strategy, according to Bremer.

“Time is a good healer,” she said. “You kind of turn the other cheek and be gracious about it and never trash talk the other person.

“People now know that he did have a serious injury. They jumped on him so fast before they even knew about it, questioning his toughness.”

Paul, also known as the “Reputation Doctor,” says Cutler has to speak up about all the hoopla … and the sooner the better.

“There’s no such thing as laying low anymore,” he said. “TMZ found him (shopping with his girlfriend in California). Where’s the laying low?

“I talk to clients constantly about this: There’s a 24-7 media cycle where anyone’s personal phone can be a camera. The best way to deal with the situation is to communicate how you felt at the time and what happened exactly. The more information that people get, the more it calms them down.

“There’s always going to be a knucklehead who says, ‘I don’t buy it; you’re still a jerk.’ But a majority of people will say, ‘You know what? That makes sense now.’”

The television coverage of the game did little to help Cutler’s cause, according to our image experts.

“They kept showing him on the sideline and people were like, ‘He’s not hurt, he’s still standing,’” said Bremer, who compared it to the George Bush 41 debate, where Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch. “That image gets burned into our brains and that’s what we look at — the surface information — and we don’t look deeper. That kind of breeds the hysteria that happens.”

Cutler spoke briefly of the hoopla after the game but hasn’t spoken publicly about it since, which adds to the hysteria, according to Paul.

“What happens when you don’t say anything is people lock into the last time they had seen you, and because you haven’t addressed it for an extended period of time, it not only reminds them of when they last thought of you negatively, but you multiply that times the amount of time that has passed … what are you trying to hide?” he said. “That makes it even worse.”

So, bottom line: how does Cutler win back the fans?

It’s pretty simple, according to Bremer.

“It’s all about performance,” she said. “It’s like business. If you produce, you’ve got a job. If he can produce and play good football, everyone will love him again.”

Paul says it’s all about clearing the air.

“Communication always clarifies,” he said, “especially if it’s done in a calm way, an upstanding way.

“That’s what he needs to do.”

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