For 21 weeks encompassing the entirety of the NFL regular season up to and including the 2016 Pro Bowl, Cam Newton was holistically the most polarizing and attention-grabbing player in the entire league for all the right reasons. He won this year's league Most Valuable Player Award while guiding the Carolina Panthers to a dominant 15–1 regular season record and a berth in the Super Bowl. But then week 22 came, the Panthers lost the Super Bowl, Cam Newton walked out on his post-game press conference, and all that positive attention quickly turned into negative attention.
That walkout came in the wake of likely the worst loss of Cam Newton's entire career, past and future. And despite reports of Cam cutting it short due to a faulty setup by the media that caused him to aggravatingly overhear exuberant Broncos players through a thin press divider during his three short minutes at the podium, the man that dabbed his way through opposing defenses and won over the hearts of the casual professional football fans this season got torn apart for it. That, coupled with his decision to forego diving into a pile to recover a fumble he had committed late in the game, was enough to entirely change the narrative surrounding Cam Newton's fourth season in his young NFL career.
For really the first time all season, the public perception of Newton focused on potential shortcomings in his game rather than the many merits he earned in the 20-something weeks prior. Never mind the fact that throughout the season, he posted ridiculous numbers for the best team in the league (until the Super Bowl), performed many humanitarian acts through his charity, and gave away all of his touchdown footballs to lucky children donning Panthers gear near the end zone. He was the subject of many crying Jordan memes for his performance in the Super Bowl. Then, for walking out on his press conference, the media ridiculed him. And for opting not to dive after his fumble, they tore him apart.
Instead of celebrating a Super Bowl victory like many thought he would, Cam Newton now must deal with allegations against his character. Some are questioning his devotion to his team and claiming selfishness as the reason why he wouldn't attempt to recover his own fumble. Furthermore his post-game behavior has been marked as childish and unprofessional, and many ESPN personalities have stated that they believe if he wants to partake in celebratory antics during games, he should also be able to handle the scenario where his team is on the receiving end.
When asked about these criticisms, Cam Newton gave a typical, but powerful answer: "I'm human. I never once said that I was perfect." He went on further to comment on allegations of poor sportsmanship: "I’ve been on record to say that I’m a sore loser. Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser."
Cam's criticisms now are likely magnified by the fact that prior to the Super Bowl, the public saw him as the poster-boy for perfection in the NFL, and now that there's been a hint of imperfection detected, it's easy for everyone to turn on him. But the answer he gave, because of the person and the type of athlete that he is, should be enough for him to save face.
Cam Newton, plainly and simply, is a competitor, and he admitted that for anybody that didn't already know. His ultra-competitiveness played a hand in helping him lead Auburn to a National Championship in 2011. Sure, there isn't a single player in professional football that enjoys losing, but Cam truly seems to hate it more than the average, and his track record dating back to Auburn can confirm that. Despite his competitive drive, though, he apparently knows his limits, as he told reporters that he didn't dive after his fumble because he felt it was too risky and that he may have injured himself in doing so.
I'm not saying that all competitors are poor sports by default because that's just not true. But it's direly unfair to destroy Cam Newton's image for a few imperfections in perhaps the biggest falter of his football career. Ignore his skills and abilities. Are we really about to ignore all of the great things Cam Newton did (i.e. feeding Thanksgiving dinner to 900 underprivileged children) just to crucify him for a few seconds of impulsive human nature on the biggest stage of his life?
Cam Newton wasn't just the most valuable player on the field this year, he was arguably the most valuable player off the field, too, which speaks volumes about the type of person that he is. Whether you prefer his sometimes overzealous in-game celebrations or not, there isn't much denying that Cam Newton, in a league full of questionable personalities and moralities, is one of the model players for integrity in the game of football right now.
Sure, maybe walking out on the media doesn't look good at that particular moment. But when you consider Cam Newton's entire body of work, and especially when you compare it to those of some of the NFL's bad (read: worst) apples, he undoubtedly remains on the list of the league's good guys. As such, we should stop questioning Cam Newton's character. It's not evident at all that he's selfish and can't display proper sportsmanship. In fact, Cam Newton congratulated Peyton Manning with a beaming smile at midfield after the game.
What's evident is that Cam Newton is a fiery competitor that wants to win, and as a franchise quarterback in the NFL, that's exactly what he should be. Imagine if he had dove into that pile and gotten injured. The severity of that injury could be questioned, but how would the Carolina Panthers feel? If anybody in that instant could have made the best decision about whether to go after the ball or not, it was indeed Cam Newton, not a story-seeking sports reporter.
This should be put to rest because it appears Cam Newton won't be going away anytime soon. Knowing what kind of player and person he is, I wouldn't bet against him coming back with a serious chip on his shoulder as he'll certainly look to return to the Super Bowl and win his first title next season while the team is still intact. Let's sit back, relax, and watch what Cam Newton and the Panthers can do next season before we prepare to write home about what a terrible person he is. Cam Newton isn't perfect, but he deserves to be left alone so that he can continue to be one of the greats.
After all the guy just lost the Super Bowl, for crying out loud.