Here we are, for the second time in a few months, writing about a Cam Newton press conference. For reference, you can find my opinion on his Super Bowl post-game here and if you don't feel like reading it, I defended him.
Now that we're all caught up, Newton stared at the floor or directly ahead during a terse session with reporters on Sunday that lasted about one minute and 30 seconds after the Panthers lost a thrilling game to the Saints, 41-38. He walked out while a pair of reporters seemed to ask him another question. Before that, he visibly rolled his eyes and sighed during a question.
When a reporter asked him why he didn't carry the ball or run as much as he's used to, he said: "Just doing what I'm asked to do."
When a reporter asked him about a comment by tight end Greg Olsen, who said the team could have scored 50 points and that it was a good output by the offense, Newton said: "That's what Olsen said."
The final question before the walkout? About what it is like standing on the sidelines when the fate of the game is being decided (via game-winning field goal).
The distant sound you hear is the hot take cannon being assembled, one spoke and brace at a time, for a Monday morning launch. Some will say that this is just who Newton is, and that the same competitive spirit which leads him to act this way in post-game interviews is the same that lifts him head and shoulders above his competitors on Sunday. Some will say that he celebrates to the point of rubbing it in while his team is winning but cannot seem to handle the reality of a 1-5 season that seems to be a lost cause with the rest of the division playing so well. Some will say the traditional athlete-reporter model, in which we poke and prod emotional humans minutes after gut-wrenching losses on national television, is irreparably broken. Some will say the questions were stupid anyway.
If you fall into one of these categories, there is nothing in the world someone can say or do to change your mind. As Chip Kelly likes to say, that's the great thing about this country, isn't it?
But before we allow this debacle to descend into the pits of your local comment section, allow us to buoy the discussion with a few facts.
- The reporters who cover him are not bad guys. Some of the people who deal with him on a daily basis, like Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer and Jonathan Jones, formerly of the Observer and now of Sports Illustrated, are among the best in the business. They cover Newton and the rest of the NFL thoughtfully and are incredibly thorough. They are not the kind of people searching for cheap headlines. If you read either of them regularly, it is easy to tell.
- Sometimes, we all have a bad day. We ask more of athletes than we'd ever ask of ourselves in terms of composure and strength. If, every now and then, Newton has a rough game or experience and rolls his eyes, he is no different than two-thirds of your office or one half of your flag football team. Some football players simply aren't interested in uttering platitudes and walking out, which, by the way, is the type of honesty we've always asked for from the athletes we cover. He executed a brilliant play fake and two-yard run to tie the game up late in the fourth quarter after the Saints started the game with a 21-point lead. The Panthers missed a chance to right the ship before hosting the Arizona Cardinals following next week's bye. That stinks. Newton probably wanted to go home, just like you.