Condemnation of Cam Newton’s postgame behavior misses the point

Feb 8, 2016, 9:20 AM | Updated: 11:42 am
A dejected Cam Newton gave a few terse responses then walked out of his postgame press conference. ...
A dejected Cam Newton gave a few terse responses then walked out of his postgame press conference. (AP)

The showman didn’t take his medicine like he was supposed to.

That’s the only way to make sense of the visceral condemnation of Cam Newton’s postgame press conference.

He didn’t recite the script that we expect from the quarterback of the losing team. Or at least he didn’t recite it loud enough for everyone to hear. Or maybe he didn’t say it often enough, standing up abruptly after hearing what he decided was one question too many.

Newton struggles in Super Bowl, walks out on postgame press conference

“I’m done, man,” Newton said after Carolina’s 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50, leaving the press conference in an act that was taken as confirmation that he lacked the maturity an MVP should have. Or the leadership. And heck, let’s throw professionalism in there, too. Those are the buzzwords being thrown around to explain everything from why he didn’t go to the ground to pursue a fourth-quarter fumble to his prospects of ever leading a team back to the Super Bowl.

I call “Shenanigans.”

How you handle press conferences doesn’t reveal your character. It shows how you handle press conferences. Specifically, it shows how well you’re able to follow a script that isn’t so much about telling the truth of what happened or revealing any real emotions so much as it is about hitting specific notes so that everyone can nod approvingly and say, “He handled that well.”

A press conference is not a test of maturity. It’s a test of conformity to the point that it’s possible to offer a rough sketch of how these things are generally to be handled:

• Be accountable. The losing player must give credit to the victorious team. This must be done even if it’s just in the context of saying, “So-and-so was the better team today even though we fumbled away every third possession and couldn’t look at the ref out of the corner of an eye without getting a flag.” And Newton gave the Broncos credit, saying repeatedly the Panthers were outplayed.

• Be downtrodden, but resilient. No one wants to see a martyr up there explaining just how much their heart hurts. You shouldn’t be happy, or even smile, but any expression of disappointment should be followed by a statement of optimism – or better yet – determination for the future.

• Do not – under any circumstance – imply that one of your teammates was responsible for the defeat: This is true especially if there is a teammate that is specifically responsible for the defeat. Say something about there being 60 plays.

Rinse, lather and repeat for about 15 minutes, and you, too, can be praised for handling a defeat the right way.

But on Sunday night, less than an hour after losing the most important game of his career, Newton didn’t care about how he looked. He didn’t care about following those talking points, and while that isn’t the most becoming way to act, I don’t think it explains anything about either Newton’s performance or his future.

How a player acts in answering questions before a crowd of reporters after a game has very little to do with how he played during it. Russell Wilson is a great quarterback because of his arm and his improvisational ability, not because he can answer questions after a game with robotic consistency.

Newton behaved in a way that certainly was not flattering. He could have been more gracious in defeat. It showed his tendency to be a bit of a frontrunner, and if you called him a sore loser, well, that’s totally reasonable.

But to look at how he responded and say it revealed some flaw that explains not only why the Panthers lost the Super Bowl, but a reason they may never make it back? Well, that’s one leap of logic I’m not willing to make.

After all, couldn’t you look at Newton’s sullen behavior and argue that the disappointment he was feeling would become the motivation he would draw upon to improve his play and come back better than ever? Think that sounds hokey and overly simplistic? You’re right. And it’s not any different than saying that Newton’s postgame poutiness explains the reasons his team lost.

The real concern is what happened in the fourth quarter with just over 4 minutes remaining. The Panthers had the ball, trailing by six, when Newton was stripped. The ball fell in front of him, and as the scrum developed to recover it, Newton hesitated to reach down to the ground.

I have no idea why he flinched. Newton might not, either. He recoiled instead of diving headlong to fight for the ball as if the game was on the line (which it was). How do you explain how a guy who gets hit as often as Newton does in the running game – and that’s by design – didn’t fight for the ball? Maybe he didn’t see it. Maybe he thought it was bouncing away. And yes, maybe he was so discouraged and battered by the Broncos that he stopped playing as hard as he could.

While you can debate what caused Newton’s hesitation, the idea that it had anything to do with the sullen way he answered questions after the game is overly simplistic.

Marshawn Lynch has made a marketing career out of being resistant to interviews. Anyone want to connect that to the reason he gets tackled?

What Newton showed after the Super Bowl is that he wasn’t interested in following a script that athletes are expected to adhere to after the biggest loss of his career, and while his actions tell you how he felt after the game and how he handled a loss, it doesn’t explain why he played the way he did during it.

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Condemnation of Cam Newton’s postgame behavior misses the point