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Why you’re wrong about Cam Newton (and the postgame press conference)

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers with a score of 24 to 10 to win Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers with a score of 24 to 10 to win Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Super Bowl is football’s biggest stage. More than 100 million people watched as the Broncos stifled the Panthers offense and frustrated Cam Newton all night. The NFL’s best offense was stuck in reverse for 60 minutes.

Cam couldn’t run. Cam couldn’t throw. Cam couldn’t dab. Cam couldn’t win. And then he walked out of his postgame press conference.

It was a great night for Cam haters.

Cam is the loudest winner and the worst loser, which means the general sports fan will never be a Cam fan.

But Cam is simply a football fan playing football. He’s just like you. He lives and dies with every play, every quarter and every game.

Cam plays with raw emotion whether it’s celebrating, dancing, giving footballs to kids, collapsing on the sideline, screaming at his coaches, yelling at his teammates, congratulating his teammates, taunting opposing fans or dabbing. These emotions are all the same.

While Cam is receiving deserved criticism for his play on the field (and his apparent lackluster effort when he had the chance to dive on a fumble in the 4th quarter), most people know he’s not the only person to blame for the loss.

But it’s his postgame press conference that is receiving the most criticism. If you have read headlines and stories published by the national media, you probably believe Cam walked out because he was tired of the questions from reporters. You haven’t heard the full story.

Less than 30 minutes after being humbled by the Broncos, Cam and his teammates were asked to sit in front of reporters and answer questions about the loss. This is normal in the NFL and like it or not, it’s part of the job. NFL players are expected to act professionally and exemplify sportsmanship by “losing gracefully.” More on that later.

But before we talk about the press conference, let’s look at Cam a few minutes after losing to the Broncos.

During dozens of interviews leading up to the Super Bowl, Cam mentioned how much he respects “The Sheriff” — and these photos are proof. A smiling Cam congratulated Peyton before leaving the field as confetti fell around him.

On Monday, Manning spoke on the Today Show and described Cam as “humble.”

“Cam could not have been nicer to me. He was extremely humble. He congratulated me, wished me the best. I told him congratulations on his outstanding season and what a great future he has ahead of him. He’ll be back in that game, I can promise you. I have been on that side of it. It is tough. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. He was very nice to me, and I really appreciated that.”

But it was what happened about 30 minutes later that had Cam haters ready to pounce.

First, let’s set the scene for Cam Newton’s postgame press conference. Surrounded by reporters, a dejected Cam enters without his familiar smile.

The questions begin. Here’s a transcript of the entire press conference. It was infamously short, so I‘ll include every question and answer:

What’s your message to Panthers fans?
“We’ll be back.”

Ron [Rivera] said Denver two years ago had a tough time and they bounced back. Do you take that to heart?
“No.”

Can you put a finger on why Carolina didn’t play the way it normally plays?
“Got outplayed.”

Is there a reason why?
“Got outplayed, bro.”

Was it pretty much what you had seen on film from Denver? Anything different they put in for this game?
“Nothing different.”

Do we sometimes forget that defenses can still take apart the offenses in this game?
“No.”

What did Ron Rivera say after the game?
“He told us a lot of things.”

Anything in particular that was memorable?
“Nope.”

Obviously you’re disappointed. On the biggest stage it’s difficult, I know.
[nods head]

Did you see anything that you didn’t expect tonight?
“They just played better than us. I don’t know what you want me to say. They made more plays than us, and that’s what it comes down to. We had our opportunities. It wasn’t nothing special that they did. We dropped balls, we turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes. That’s it. They scored more points than us.”

Can you put into words the disappointment you feel right now?
“We lost.”

Did Denver change anything defensively to take away your running lanes?
“No.”

I know you’re disappointed not just for yourself, but for your teammates. It’s got to be real tough.
[shakes head] “I’m done man.”

At that moment, a dejected Cam stands up and walks away from reporters. At that very same moment, every Cam hater stood up and clapped.

Should Cam have handled this better? Absolutely. But can you also understand why someone would react this way? Absolutely. Believe it or not, it’s possible to be disappointed in how someone handles a situation but still like the person. These two feelings don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The press conference was shown live on ESPN2 and the NFL Network. Deion Sanders reacted immediately, saying:

“You are the face of our brand right now, you can’t do that,” Deion Sanders said after the game. “I understand the emotions of losing, but you can’t do that. A Manning, a Brady … all these guys who are a prototypical type of quarterback in our game, they’re not going to do that ever… You’re opening yourself for more criticism,” he said. “Because everybody is going to say you’re dabbing and smiling and smiling and styling. So this is how you go out when you lose?”

Sure. This is an easy hot take based on what we were shown on TV.

But there’s a little more to the story.

When setting the scene earlier, I (purposely) neglected to mention one other person who was nearby: Denver Broncos Cornerback Chris Harris, Jr.

While Cam was fielding questions about his team’s loss, he was forced to listen to Harris brag about the Broncos strategy for shutting down the Panthers. Here’s the video:

Here’s a transcript of what Harris is saying in the video:

“That was the game plan. Load the box, force ya’ll to throw the ball. Can you throw the football? That was the game plan. Load the box, one-on-one outside. They got a couple big plays, but I feel like me, [Aqib] Talib and [Bradley] Roby, we were able to come back and make more plays to shut them down.”

At the point where Harris can be heard saying “…force ya’ll to throw the ball. Can you throw the ball?…,” you see Cam cut his eyes over to Harris. He then stands up and walks away.

It was never about the reporter’s question. Cam had heard enough from Harris.

Here’s the full video, if you want to get a feel for what was happening during the interview:

Harris has every right to say whatever he wants during his postgame interview. He could have said a lot worse — and he had every right to after the way his defense dominated the Panthers. But after watching the video, it’s obvious Cam felt that comment was directed at him, and the poor setup for interviews following the game allowed this unfortunate moment to take place.

According to several writers who cover the NFL, the interview set up was typical for the Super Bowl. Players are typically separated by curtains or partitions during postgame interviews. Harris, when told his comments likely caused Cam to abruptly end his postgame conference, he said: “Damn that’s the NFL’s fault for putting us that close.”

Although you’ll probably disagree, I’m not making excuses for Cam. He knows the deal. Less than 24 hours after being named the NFL MVP, he knows everything he does will be closely watched and criticized. For that reason, he should have handled himself better during his press conference and deserves some criticism. He should have presented himself as a gracious loser during the press conference, just to avoid the media and fan backlash.

But the thing is — that’s not who Cam is.

Cam could have easily thrown his offensive line under the bus like Peyton Manning did back in 2006, when Manning said: “I’m trying to be a good teammate here … let’s just say we had some problems with protection.” Cam didn’t do that. He was just himself. An emotional, frustrated, dejected, unhappy guy who just lost the biggest game of his life.

You will argue that Cam is a professional and needs to act like one. But why must a professional pretend (and we all know these guys are pretending) a humiliating, painful loss is anything but exactly what it is?

Why do we need to see him smiling at a press conference? Why do we need athletes to tweet out canned “We’ll be back! Thanks to the fans!” tweets after losing the Super Bowl? I guess it’s to make us feel better? Is it their job to entertain us, bring us championships and then comfort us after a loss? It seems weird, right? But regardless, this is the expectation.

Cam is emotional. What you call showboating, Cam calls celebrating. What you call sulking, Cam calls reacting. What you call cocky, Cam calls confidence. Cam is naturally emotional and he has no interest in hiding his emotion.

But here’s where you’re wrong about Cam Newton. Cam is a lot more like you than you would ever want to admit. Cam is simply a football fan playing football.

You scream at your team, tear off your jersey and threaten a kicker over a missed field goal. Cam dabs when he scores touchdowns, collapses on the sideline when his team loses and is unable to put on a happy face immediately after a devastating loss.

He has highs and lows, just like you. And like all fanatics, his highs are the highest and his lows are the lowest.

Cam is often described as “fake,” as many fans think his celebrating and smile are both fabricated. But let’s think about that for a moment. We expect players who score a touchdown to “act like they have been there before.” We then expect them to “act professionally” when they lose. Instead, Cam dabs and dances when scores — and then sulks when he loses. In this scenario, who is fake?

Based on our expectations of athletes, Cam deserves criticism. But are our expectations of athletes realistic?

If you’re not a Panthers fan, Cam will never make you happy. He’s either too happy/showboating/taunting or he’s sulking/a sore loser/a brat. For that reason, there was only one answer from the postgame press conference that really matters. And it’s directed at Panthers fans, although Cam probably wants his haters to also hear the message:

What’s your message to Panthers fans?
“We’ll be back.”

Editor’s note: This editorial was written by Scott Gustin, National Content Editor at Tribune Broadcasting. 

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