KANSAS CITY, Mo. — No human being should ever cheer another human being's pain, especially a head injury, so let's just make that clear right here at the top.
In that specific way, the anger of Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Winston is well-placed.
In virtually every other way, Winston is dead wrong on important details, empty on context and misguided about where Chiefs fans are coming from.
The downside is that many people now wrongly believe 70,000 people cheered Matt Cassel's concussion, and if general manager Scott Pioli is fired he will almost certainly use this to slam Kansas City fans to national media — “off the record,” of course.
But the good part is that our city's worst-kept secret is no longer kept, and the men in charge of the Chiefs can no longer ignore it or pretend that a win at Tampa Bay this weekend will fix a broken foundation I've been writing about for weeks:
Chiefs fans actively dislike this team. Now, it appears the feeling is mutual.
This problem dwarfs a 1-4 start to what looks like another lost season.
Winston is wrong about key specifics. That needs to be said. When Cassel got sandwiched between two Ravens there were not 70,000 people at Arrowhead Stadium, let alone that many cheering the injury.
Winston clarified that point on Twitter and then in a short sit-down with media, but further mangled another important fact by insisting backup Brady Quinn didn't come onto the field until Cassel was off. That's just not true.
Winston says he's received “overwhelming support” about his tirade from teammates and friends, but that's no more relevant than a fan getting high-fived for heckling from the stands.
I heard two cheers. The first came with Cassel still on the ground, when Quinn — popular way beyond his own merits by virtue of Cassel's 13 turnovers in five games — walked onto the field. This cheer was joyous. And at least to my ears, that was about Quinn coming on more than Cassel being hurt.
The second cheer came when Cassel rose to his feet, the kind of polite applause you always hear when an injured player gets up.
That's what I heard, anyway, even as I understand that some idiots in the stands did directly cheer Cassel's injury. One person cheering a head injury is one too many, and there was more than one. On that point, all rational human beings agree with Winston.
But even ignoring the hypocrisy of a league that's made billions desensitizing fans to violence now demanding those fans hold their applause until every player gets up, this is all a bit like arguing which beer turned a driver drunk.
In other words, Kansas City fans have been over the legal limit of disgust about their professional teams for quite some time.
While the rest of the country comes to the realization that Kansas City is not the sports world's Mayberry — we can boo here, too, you know — it would be a shame if the Chiefs didn't use this opportunity to fix problems much bigger than four losses, 19 turnovers, and a bad situation.
The Chiefs should be the most popular thing in town, right up there with the barbecue and affordable houses in great neighborhoods.
Instead, the men in charge are screwing it up.
The Chiefs need to be more accessible. That's the first thing. Kansas Citians are generally a warm people, except when they feel ignored.
Ewing Kauffman wore his blue blazer and waved from his suite during the seventh-inning stretch. Lamar Hunt made pregame rounds in a golf cart. That stuff matters here, almost certainly more than in other places. Maybe more than it should.
Winston doesn't understand this, and that's not his fault. He's been here five games. But what he heard was not a celebration of a man's head injury as much as it was the hopeful end to a quarterback situation that grew so ridiculous the coach devised entire game plans around it while refusing to make a change.
The narrative has been exaggerated in some ways, but right or wrong the Chiefs have an owner perceived to be detached and a general manager perceived to be arrogant. Kansas City fans have made the Chiefs one of the best-supported franchises in the NFL, but people here won't stand for perceiving detachment or arrogance. Ask David Glass.
The Chiefs are active in local charities and in May gave each season ticket holder a customized jersey, among other attempts to reach fans. Those are all good things, but it's important to recognize that it's also buried under a growing feeling among fans that the franchise cares more about profit margin than wins.
Cassel became the most visible symbol of every bit of this frustration — 19 years without a playoff win, tightened tailgating restrictions, a growing loyalty to the bottom line over goodwill — and that's not fair. He is a terrific backup quarterback being presented as a good starting quarterback, and so he receives more personal criticism than he should. In that way, the same organization that's made Cassel wealthy has also let him down.
This is all out there for everyone to see now. Nationally, people now think of the Chiefs as the team so bad their fans cheer injuries. Here in Kansas City we know there are a million fallacies in that, but if that's where it stops then we've all missed a critical opportunity.
Fans need to be better than to cheer an injury. The organization they pour money and passion into needs to be better than to let this much frustration build, too.
Some of this can be solved with a few wins. But the Chiefs are delusional if they don't see bigger issues that need to be addressed.