Jay Cutler and the Cost of Not Being Liked

by GK on January 25, 2011 · 4 comments

I’ve said it, and so have so many others in the advice-giving game: Be Yourself. It’s so vague yet so right at the same time, and the gap we must bridge to explain it can seem wider than the Grand Canyon. What if we don’t know ourselves yet? What if yourself changes a little bit from day to day?

And what if who we are is simply unlikeable to many people? Should we be ourselves then?

I was reminded of the latter question after watching the Bears-Packers playoff game Sunday. For those of you not familiar with American football, Jay Cutler is quarterback of the Bears, and I hate him. I hate him worse than a bad rash, spoiled milk and high school geometry put together. Have I ever met him? Do I know much about him as a person? Nope.

But from all accounts, and few are denying them, Cutler is an arrogant, aloof prick who doesn’t care about much of anything. He especially doesn’t care about being liked. And some might consider that an admirable quality, even though most of Cutler’s peers dislike him. We’re not supposed to care what people think of us, right?

Right. Kind of. But there are consequences for not being liked, and we saw them play out during and after the game. With a Super Bowl berth at stake, Cutler didn’t play most of the second half after his knee was injured, and the Bears lost. We wouldn’t learn until a day later that he had suffered a sprained knee ligament, which is serious, though some players have performed with similar injuries.

But with TV cameras showing Cutler walking and standing alone on the sideline with his usual bad body language and what looked like iPod earbuds on, many of us wondered if he was quitting on his team. And I don’t just mean fans or journalists; I’m talking about Cutler’s fellow NFL players, who flooded Twitter with derisive comments questioning his toughness.  

As much as I wanted to see Cutler lose, this kind of harshness from a player’s peers was unprecedented and probably unfair. Cutler may never live this down, and I’m sure Peyton Manning or Tom Brady wouldn’t have been bashed like that if they were similarly hurt.

Understanding a player’s injury is complex, but the reason for his rough treatment is simple: people don’t like Jay Cutler. And people who aren’t liked often lose the benefit of the doubt.

I consider this food for thought, considering every guy I’ve coached was coming to me because he wanted to be liked. I know I’ve benefited greatly from being liked. I’ve been promoted at work and introduced to women because of it, and I saved on half my vacation costs to Australia and Asia last month because of help from friends (at least, I think they like me).

In contrast, I’ve been laid off from a job in part because the guy making the decision was friends with another employee, and I’m sure I’ve lost out on women because their friends had bad impressions of me.

Some might say it doesn’t matter if you’re liked or not; it only matters if you’re respected. Maybe, but only if you don’t need help. People respect Barry Bonds as one of the top five hitters in baseball history, but now that he’s been linked to steroids, reporters may never vote him into the Hall of Fame. Because he treated most people like cockroaches.

In some cases, you can be disliked and still handle adversity. Kanye West is giving toasts to douchebags like himself since the Taylor Swift fiasco, but he’s also a douchebag who wears his flaws on his sleeve. Because of this, even his critics can relate to him. He also put out the best hip-hop album of 2010, which helps. 

Jay Cutler could have helped people relate to him by giving interviews or revealing himself more. He could have improved his image by pretending to limp in pain on the sideline after his injury or given some fiery speech to his teammates on the sideline. But that wouldn’t have been true to his nature. Ironically, being himself made him much less likable.

Does that mean you should act like someone you’re not just to make someone like you? I think it’s generally a bad idea, but only you can decide where to draw the line and decide what’s more important. Willy Loman thought being liked meant everything in “Death of a Salesman,” and he just ended up living a lie and killing himself because of it. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I think of the first episode of “Mad Men,” when young, ambitious Pete sexually harasses Peggy on her first day (people didn’t get fired for that in 1960), and Don tells him that if he keeps acting like that, “you’ll die in the corner office, a midlevel executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity. Want to know why? Because no one will like you.”

Of course, chances are you’re way easier to like than Jay Cutler, and to be liked, all you often need to do is show people you like them. That’s why it’s one of the Big Four! But I had to bring this up.

I’ll get around to my hatred of LeBron James some other time.


1 rayray January 25, 2011 at 6:18 am

Other athletes play through similar injuries because of cortisone shots, Cutler is diabetic — his body can’t handle cortisone.

2 GK January 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Indeed he is diabetic, rayray. But again, no sympathy for the devil.

3 Erich January 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

In the past couple of years my work performance has improved parallel, or even more with my social experience and experience with the ladies.

I always had a chip on my shoulder at work. I’d think “Boo hoo, they just don’t understand my situation.” I got a book on procrastination and improved my work and school. Now the people that used to ride my ass, because I wasn’t contributed to the work team love me, because of my sense of humor and that I’ve improved my work contributions. I think it boils down to this, if you make other peoples lives easier (aka don’t make it a pain in the ass to work with you) you’ll be liked more.

Even my coworkers who disliked the most, because of my bad work habits came around to me being the real deal of change, even after I gave them a few months of grace period for disbelief of my new found good work ethic! :)

4 Sal January 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I’d say choose the type of job that fits your personality, if you can help it.

For example, I’m looking to leave full-time corporate work and go into contract work, and a big reason is that I don’t want to worry about being more likable than the next guy in the eyes of my manager. The people I know who are contractors or consultants say they get to skip past a lot of the BS that exists in corporate culture. I’ll admit that contracting work has a lot of downsides to it, though.

Now, I am liked at work. However, I can’t help but feel I’m at a disadvantage to other employees who have better social skills than me, and I hate that feeling. Though I’m friendly and assertive, I’m just too awkward and nerdy to ever be CEO. I’d say I’m an example of not being liked enough by the NYC corporate crowd, despite being likable.

I am aiming to make big bucks — I have a lot of specialist expertise to offer. However, I’d prefer to leave the corporate lifestyle to the Don Drapers of the world, if I can help it. Those kinds of people are experts at navigating the social jungle that is the corporate world, and in all honesty, I have little chance against them.

On the other hand, my personality is much more suited to being a mercenary, albeit a friendly, nerdy one :-)

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