Lindsey Vonn, Jay Cutler and knee-jerk reactions

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Lindsey Vonn sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her left knee while finishing third in a World Cup downhill Saturday in northeast Italy and skied to first place in a Super-G race about 24 hours later.

Jay Cutler sprained the MCL in his left knee in the first half -- apparently late in the half -- of Sunday’s NFC championship game against Green Bay and played just one series of the second half before the Bears replaced him at quarterback. Coach Lovie Smith said he and the medical staff made the decision. Cutler said he could not plant the injured leg to throw.


Is Vonn tougher than Cutler?


But there is no way to draw that conclusion because Vonn skied while Cutler stayed on the sidelines.

There obviously was a risk for both in continuing to compete.

The instability caused in a knee by an MCL sprain, which actually is a tear, could lead a skier possibly to lose control at high speed and result in a dangerous crash.

But Vonn did not have to deal with the near certainty that large, fast defensive players would crash into her at high speed, a risk quarterbacks take in every game. And there were no teammates depending on her performance.

After making independent examinations of her, a doctor and a physiotherapist told Vonn that she had sprained the MCL. Then she had several hours Saturday and early Sunday to get treatment, rest, and see how the knee felt.

Cutler and the Bears’ medical staff likely had no more than the halftime intermission, about 15 minutes, to assess his knee’s condition. They decided it was best for Cutler and the team to keep him on the sidelines. An MRI on Monday showed Cutler had a Grade II MCL tear, which is significant damage.

Vonn did not have an MRI before or after deciding to ski Sunday, so the extent of her knee damage is not known precisely.

Vonn was speaking only about herself Tuesday when she said, ‘I think it’s part of our sport that you have to be able to deal with injuries and fight back. I have been through this a few times, so I am just doing therapy and trying to get better. But I can push through the pain and just get back out there.’

This season, Cutler has returned after a concussion and bounced up (or at least got up) after being sacked nearly five dozen times. He has dealt with it and fought back.

Yes, Lindsey Vonn is tough. She showed that at the 2006 Olympics, coming back from a horrific training crash and leaving a hospital bed to compete (and finish eighth) in the downhill with a bruised and battered body the next day.

But in 2007, she decided to end the season a month early and eventually had arthroscopic surgery after what was first considered a mild sprain of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in her right knee. In 2010, she won two Olympic medals, gold and bronze, despite being in the early stages of recovery from a shin bruise she said had caused ‘excruciating pain.’'

What does that mean? Nothing more than each situation is particular, even for the same athlete, especially for two different athletes.

Some people questioned the seriousness of Vonn’s shin injury last year after she won the Olympic downhill barely a week after she first revealed the problem.

Many, including some other football players, have questioned Cutler’s guts since he came out of Sunday’s game.

But who should judge what an athlete feels other than the athlete?

Nobody asked Vonn about Cutler’s knee or whether he should have played on during the Tuesday teleconference that followed her being named U.S. Olympic Committee Sportswoman of the Year for the second straight year. Such a question would have been utterly ridiculous. It is even ridiculous to ask it of other football players.

Lindsey Vonn and Jay Cutler each hurt a left knee MCL over the weekend.

The way each dealt with it depended entirely on things no one outside his or her body will ever know.