CHIEFS ANGRY WITH FANS WHO CHEERED MATT CASSEL'S HEAD INJURY
By Tom Weir
The NFL had a gravely disturbing moment Sunday, when some fans in Kansas City cheered after Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel left the game with a head injury.
Those cheers erupted at a time when even casual fans are learning that head injuries often have lifelong consequences for the players who endure them. Equally jarring was the fact the home fans celebrated one of their own getting battered, and that this all occurred in what's thought to be a mild-mannered Midwest market, not some tough-as-nails East Coast metropolis.
Among those saddened by the cheers is Mike Bell, a former first-round choice of the Chiefs who spent all 12 years of his NFL career in Kansas City, from 1979-91.
"I don't see where there's a place to cheer a guy who gets hurt," Bell told SOTL.com. "It's his career."
Bell, who played defensive end, said that perhaps some Kansas City fans were cheering because they would get to see Brady Quinn take over at quarterback, a move many have called for while Cassel struggled with turnovers this season.
"I think if you looked in the heart of all the people who did that, they're not really happy Matt Cassel is hurt," said Bell, who was at the game. "Some of them were cheering more for a change."
But either way, Bell said, "I'll bet those people now wish they didn't do that."
Bell expects Chiefs fans will attempt to atone at their next home game, Oct. 28 against Oakland.
"I think they will," Bell said. "If they see Matt on the sideline or wherever, I think there will be applause, something that says 'We're sorry, we didn't mean it.' "
Bell said the situation was probably best addressed by Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Winston, who took his case to the news media after Baltimore's 9-6 victory at Arrowhead Stadium dropped Kansas City to 1-4.
"We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Colosseum. This is a game,'' Winston told reporters.
Pointing out the health issues many NFL players face after retirement, Winston said: "This is a game that's going to cost us a lot down the road. That's OK. We picked it. We deserve it. I don't want your pity. But we've got a lot of problems as a society if people think that's OK.''
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles also weighed in about the cheering, saying: "It's not right, you know what I'm saying? I'll speak that for any stadium, any player to get hurt . . . When someone gets booed, it's not right. It's his health. You know what I'm saying? He got hurt. You have to respect. It wasn't right that he got booed.''
The tasteless reaction to Cassel's injury also resonated with players in other cities. Among them was Bruce Laird, a Pro Bowl defensive back who spent most of his 12-year NFL career in Baltimore, and who is on the board of directors of Fourth & Goal, an independent organization that seeks to help retired players.
"I think it's horrific," Laird told SOTL.com. "At the end of the day, a player is down, and it could be a head injury, and they're cheering. Where has our society gone?"
Laird, 62, keeps in touch with many former players and said, "Somewhere between the age of 45 to 55 you're going to begin to pay for what we decided to do . . . If you played 10 years or more you're all beat up. I see guys, and they all have new body parts."
Laird said he soon will need shoulder surgery, and then more surgery on his neck but, "I've been blessed so far. The knees are okay."
As for insensitive fans who ignore what NFL players endure, Laird quoted one of the game's memorable coaches.
"The great George Allen used to say that, 'You don't know that you don't know,' " Laird said. "It's a game. You don't cheer for someone when they get hurt. What kind of world do we live in anymore?"