Cam Newton‘s last true, meaningful NFL moment was disappointment followed by disgrace. First, he and his Carolina Panthers lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. Then he embarrassed himself, his team and the game with an act of petulance unworthy of that league and his massive, massive gifts.
The internet exploded. The hot-takers armed up and mobbed Twitter. The sycophants and apologists countered. And lost in it all was a simple fact, one I wrote about at the time: You can’t and shouldn’t judge a man by a single moment. But, if the moment is big enough, you can judge him by what follows and how he responds.
For Cam Newton, that’s now. Thursday’s NFL season opener between his Panthers and, yes, the Broncos team that broke their hearts and got Cam all frustrated and flummoxed in the first place, is the real test in how we should remember his Super Bowl temper tantrum.
And, ultimately, how we judge him.
Let’s get this out of the way. Newton’s storming off after a bizarre, petulant postgame press conference wasn’t acceptable. It wasn’t leadership. It wasn’t becoming for an NFL starting quarterback, let alone the reigning league MVP. If Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly and Russell Wilson can stand up there and take the heat after a loss — and, at times, after championship-costing mistakes — Newton can, too. It’s part of the job. It’s a man’s league, and part of that means acting like one.
But it’s also true that we all have bad days — at work, in life — that reflect not who we are but where we were at a certain moment in time. And that’s glaringly true in sports. It’s all there, the ups and the downs and the mistakes, for everyone to see, dissect, judge.
That’s a big reason we love them, these games we play and obsess over, these games to which we give so much of our love and time and attention. Because they don’t just reflect the things that make us who we are — the failures, the struggles, the wins, the losses, our strivings and hopes and ambitions and those tribes that define us. They enhance those things, and in doing so make things like the Super Bowl and its competitors both reflections of us and larger-than-life figures that do things most of us can only imagine.
And for Cam, now, all of that has funneled to this: We will watch the moves he makes, the sighs he utters, the press conference he storms out of (or doesn’t), the losses he can’t stomach. We’ll also judge, whether we know it or not, how that moment after Super Bowl 50 shapes him, for better or worse.
We can learn from our mistakes, or get swallowed by them. We can find an interesting strength in knowing our weaknesses, and that they don’t define us — or be felled by knowing them. It really isn’t what happens to you, but how you respond. That’s true for me, for you, and for quarterbacks who get angry after one of the most disappointing games of their lives.
I for one am betting on Cam Newton. Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. But I like him, what I know from afar and the few times up close. I think he’s been unfairly demonized and criticized in the past, going all the way back to Auburn. And that he has taken the doubters and the weird, unnecessary disdain and turned it into a vibrant game and on-field ferocity speaks volumes about his ability to channel turmoil and make it a strength. And his talent, wow, it is something to see.
I think he’s the kind of man who will take that bitter Super Bowl memory, learn from it, and be even better as a result.
We’ve seen greats and other athletes do it before.
LeBron James channeled his mistakes and all that criticism, as much as he did his massive talent, in order to bring Miami, and then most incredibly Cleveland, the taste of an NBA championship. Manning was awful in big games, but he kept going and the culture he crafted in Denver allowed the worst statistical regular-season quarterback in Super Bowl history to help best a team with Newton, who was the actual MVP. And yes, I know, Denver’s defense was great, to say the least.
More recently, if not yet lasting, is Yasiel Puig — demoted by the Los Angeles Dodgers because of his attitude, humbled in the minors, and then he returned this week and again flashed that great, true talent. The examples stretch far and wide through sports.
The point is this: Greatness stems from work ethic, and talent, and luck, and the intangibles that happen between the lines. But it also comes from how you confront not just your opponents but yourself.
The world judged — one way or another — Cam Newton after last season’s Super Bowl loss. But the time to really assess him, and what happened back in February, starts now.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Sore loser or Superman? It’s time for the real Cam Newton to stand up