Last year, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler quit in the middle of the biggest game of his career. Cutler had an injured knee, but nothing that seemed to be more than a nuisance. He didn't get carried to the training room on a stretcher. He didn't even have to leave the field. He stood, calmly, on the sidelines and watched his teammates lose a close game to the Green Bay Packers.
The response was instantaneous and intense. Cutler was a quitter. A loser. A coward. Jason Whitlock's was a typical column:
In the biggest game of his career, shortly after playing 30 minutes of awful football, Cutler laid down on the Bears and the city of Chicago. Hiding behind a knee injury, he tapped out in much the same way LeBron James tapped out with an elbow injury against the Celtics during last year’s playoffs.
I’m sorry. I don’t need an MRI to confirm King Cutler quit.
FOX cameras provided all the evidence I need.
Whitlock and his cohorts in the media weren't alone. Fellow players like Maurice Jones Drew called him out on Twitter. The idea of Cutler = Quitter is now inescapable. It defines his career, despite the revelation that Cutler had actually suffered a torn MCL in the first half.
Sports fans have a zero tolerance policy for quitters, for athletes who don't perform when it means the most. Roberto Duran, arguably the greatest boxer of his generation, never lived down quitting in a fight with "Sugar" Ray Leonard. How many jokes did you hear about Lebron James disappearing in the fourth quarter of important basketball games? To sports fans, these are moral failures. Only mixed martial arts fans seem to permit them.
In mixed martial arts, quitting isn't just forgivable - it's actively encouraged. That's necessary if you want to have a career that lasts for any significant period of time. Sometimes you just have to protect your arm, your knee, or your neck.
But quitting in MMA is much more pervasive than that. It's not just guys taking an out when no escape is possible. Fighters routinely quit in the cage - and it's rarely even discussed the next day. Take, for example, Eddie Alvarez.
In the fourth round of an amazing and fast paced fight for the Bellator lightweight championship, Alvarez ate a hard punch from contender Michael Chandler. He dropped to the ground and Chandler worked his way to the mount position. Alvarez seemed to break. He gave up his back without being struck at all and was immediately placed in a rear naked choke by Chandler. Note I didn't say choked out. That wasn't necessary, as Alvarez was waiting patiently for the hold to sink in so he could call it a night.
Alvarez, defending a title belt and a mythical spot in the lightweight top five, didn't even try to escape out the back door. He didn't turn to his stomach in order to prolong the fight. He was looking for the first opportunity to tap. Alvarez didn't want to fight anymore. Compare Alvarez's response with Dan Henderson's heroic performance later in the evening. When Henderson got into trouble he fought his heart out to escape it. It was a stark contrast.
Eddie Alvarez decided to quit in the cage. No one will call it that of course. Some will even be irate at the suggestion that anyone in the cage is something other than an indomitable warrior. But it's true. MMA includes a culture of quitting. Are you alright with that?