KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt is coming to the defense of fans in Kansas City.
The chief executive and most visible individual in the ownership family issued a statement Wednesday in which he described Chiefs fans as "passionate, hardworking, loyal, educated football fans," and said they are the "heart and soul of the Arrowhead experience."
The fans have been the subject of national scrutiny this week after offensive lineman Eric Winston laid into a small percentage of them who cheered when quarterback Matt Cassel was injured in a 9-6 loss to Baltimore last Sunday. Cassel sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter.
"They know cheering an injury to anyone in any stadium is unacceptable," Hunt said. "I want to make it perfectly clear: A small few who may have cheered when Matt went down do not accurately represent the best fans in the National Football League. Period."
Winston's diatribe, in which he called the segment of fans cheering Cassel's injury "sickening," quickly went viral. It was dissected on ESPN, and more mainstream television news programs such as "Good Morning American" and the "Today" show offered their take on it.
It hasn't helped that the Chiefs have scuffled to a 1-4 start.
"The majority of the Chiefs fans are not going to cheer a player getting hurt. I think the majority of Chiefs fans support the Chiefs. They want the chiefs to win," coach Romeo Crennel said. "Are they frustrated? Yes, they're frustrated, just like we're frustrated."
Winston said he's received overwhelming support in the locker room, but acknowledged that he was "naive" to think that his comments would not gain traction nationally.
"If there was anything I could take back, and not even take back, just clarify more that I was speaking to the people who were cheering and not the total fanbase. I realize how great the fans are here," Winston said. "That's the one thing I wish I was a little more clear about."
Animosity has been building in Kansas City for years, both over the failure of the Royals to reach the playoffs since 1985 and the Chiefs to win a playoff game since 1993.
One group of tailgaters in a stadium parking lot last Sunday strung up a bed sheet carrying the message that the Chiefs were an "embarrassment." Prior to the game, an airplane towed a banner paid for by fans asking that general manager Scott Pioli gets fired.
"I've been here for eight years, so I know we have real good fans. That's not a big question mark in my head," said linebacker Derrick Johnson, adding that he stood by Winston's comments.
"Playing against Kansas City and playing on Kansas City, we have great fans," said Brady Quinn, who is expected to start in Cassel's place on Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Even now, it's unclear exactly what the small percentage of Chiefs fans were applauding: the injury to Cassel itself, the play that resulted in a first down, the moment that Cassel finally got to his feet or when Quinn took over as quarterback.
Cassel had been struggling all season, and had thrown two interceptions in the game.
"We're trying to make it better," Crennel added. "I got up there a little earlier on Sunday and (the fans) were there in their red, and they were ready to try to help their team, and the team played a competitive game. Was it perfect? It was not perfect. But it was a competitive game, and it kept the fans involved in the hopes they were able to pull out a victory.
"We have to continue to play like that," Crennel said, "to keep the fans cheering for us and supportive of us the way they have been for a long time."