Panthers Patient With Cam Newton's Rough Edges
Coach Rivera on star quarterback's post-Super Bowl press conference: "Don’t take a snapshot—take the whole album."
After each of the past four seasons, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton left Bank of America Stadium and headed into the offseason without saying goodbye. To reporters, at least.
So when the Panthers packed up their things Tuesday, about 36 hours after Newton sulked and stormed off stage at the post-Super Bowl press conference, few expected him to stop and chat.
"Obviously somebody had a great conversation with him," said coach Ron Rivera, who added he wasn't the one who suggested Newton spend a few minutes explaining himself.
"He was able to compose himself today and speak to you folks, and I think that's huge. I think what he did today is part of his growth. He is still growing and maturing as a man in this world."
Newton's maturation has been fascinating to watch, and not just because of how he's grown since coming to Carolina. How people have reacted to his growth—It's not fast enough, or, It's not happening the right way, or this or that—has said plenty as well. But Sunday night was different because it came on the biggest night in American sports.
Should Newton have handled himself better despite the most disappointing loss of his short career?
Most would say yes.
Many could even make an argument that doesn't involve race, or any other larger topic that often muddies the waters of a good Newton discussion, by saying his position both on the team and in the NFL means he needs to be held to a higher standard.
When Rivera was asked if he was OK with Newton wearing his sore loser act almost as a badge of honor, the coach didn't completely absolve his quarterback.
"I wouldn't say we like it; we don't want to promote it. Most certainly there's a lot of young people out there looking at who we are. We are role models for them," Rivera said.
For the Panthers, this is a tough balance. Rivera is loved in the locker room because he allows his guys to be who they are. But sometimes, giving players too much freedom might be seen as enabling.
"I don't want to say we accept it, but we know who he is," Rivera said. "He does take it hard, and quite honestly if he's going to take it hard then maybe the public service is we can avoid having to have him talk right away.
"People take a loss—not just football losses, but personal losses a specific way as well. Time is probably the best thing. So in some circumstances, maybe it'd be better to give people a little bit more time to collect their thoughts and their emotions."
The NFL, a league that makes billions, isn't going to do away with postgame press conferences just because a player who makes millions needs time to gather his emotions. What we saw Sunday night is who Newton is.
"That's definitely part of his edge," Rivera said. "He hates to lose and that’s what you love in him. I’d much rather have a guy that hates to lose than a guy that accepts it. The guy that accepts it, you might as well just push him out of your locker room, because you don’t want him around."
General manager Dave Gettleman had the same message.
"I want players that hate to lose, plain and simple," Gettleman said. "I want players that I know when the game is over, they are crawling into the locker room and they need help getting their gear off, and it’s going to take them time to get in the shower and get cleaned up. I want the buses to be late for the airport if we’re traveling."
Well, the Panthers sure have a guy in Newton who can make the buses late. Part of what made Sunday night so strange was how quickly he appeared for his postgame press conference.
In previous weeks, Newton took up to an hour to shower and get dapper before talking to the media. This time, he still had his game pants on, and as he tersely replied to most questions with one-word answers, he kept his hood draped over his head.
"I think people draw a conclusion off a snapshot," Rivera said. "Don’t take a snapshot—take the whole album. Take time to read the whole book. There’s that great saying, ‘You can't judge a book by its cover.’ This is a young man, I think, that some people are looking at the cover and looking at it the wrong way.
"You don't know the young man. You don't know the young man personally. Losing is not an easy thing. He really does not like to lose."
That has become clear—painfully so.
Like most people in their early 20s, Newton came to Carolina with plenty of growing up to do. Although his growth has been too slow for some, it's there. That it didn't show after the Super Bowl doesn't mean we should define him as one thing or another thing. It's just that, like all of us, he has room to grow.
"Time will heal it for him and time will make it better for him," Rivera said. "He’ll be able to handle it, which he did today. … We don't play these games because we want to get a participation trophy. We play this game to win. That's what it's really about. I’m proud of who he is as a competitor and a football player.
"Do I wish he had handled it better or differently? Yes. But that’s who he is, and I understand who the young man is for us."