After watching Cam Newton in his past two games, it occurred to me: I have seen this act before.
The incredibly talented Carolina quarterback has been sulking on the sidelines when things don’t go well, waiting nearly an hour to talk to the media after a game and not saying much when he does. Instead of acting like an NFL quarterback, Newton is acting like a child.
I saw the same thing back in small-town Pennsylvania in the 1970s and '80s. I had a neighbor and friend who was a grade behind me in school. Like Newton, he was a physical specimen. He also had one of those late birthdays, so in his final year of Little League he was playing with kids a grade behind him in school.
You know the type -- at 12, they’re 6 feet and 175 pounds. You see one of them carrying a team to Williamsport every year, and that’s exactly what was expected of my friend. He hit home runs in bunches and struck out almost every batter he faced during his regular Little League season.
Then he got to an All-Star game against a team from a much larger town. Late in the game, he gave up a crucial home run with a couple of guys on base. In anger, he slung his glove toward the dugout and his athletic career essentially flew with it. He was tossed from the game.
By high school, he’d given up baseball and basketball because he no longer took any joy from them. His final athletic stand came when he was the starting quarterback as a junior, and a team with high expectations started 0-3. I remember thinking it was time for my friend to come down with an injury or simply walk away. In the fourth game, he hurt his knee.
It was the kind of injury that coaches thought might cost him only a few games. But my friend never played again. An enormous amount of athletic talent was wasted, not because he never learned to lose, but because he never learned how to deal with adversity and overcome it.
I’m not drawing the parallel to suggest Newton is going to just give up. He’s not, because he’s too much of a competitor. But that’s part of his problem.
There’s no question Newton can play quarterback in the NFL. But, if he wants to truly succeed, he has to start acting like an NFL quarterback and act with some balance.
Watch Drew Brees some time. No one is as competitive as Brees. But out on the field, you never see Brees let his emotions get the best of him. It’s similar with the other two NFC South quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Winning or losing, you usually can’t tell by their actions or body language.
I think back on quarterbacks through Carolina’s history. Steve Beuerlein and Rodney Peete were as even-keeled as they come. Jake Delhomme had a visible competitive edge about him but never freaked out when things didn’t go well. In fact, Delhomme was at his best when things got tight.
That’s part of being an NFL quarterback. You have to set the tone for your team, and it can’t be too high or too low.
There’s no question Newton is in a pressure cooker. After a record-setting rookie year, the expectations in Carolina went up about six notches. Center Ryan Kalil bought a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer promising a Super Bowl win. Fans just nodded their heads and agreed.
But the Panthers are off to a 1-3 start, and most of the blame is falling on Newton. Some of that’s simply because Newton is the quarterback, so he’s always going to warrant attention.
But sometimes it’s about how you handle attention that determines perception and reality, and Newton is not doing a great job of that. He has set himself up for the fall by doing his Superman pose when things do go well. And he has made the fall even steeper by pouting when things go wrong.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Newton has been working with a life coach to help deal with the pressure. Newton denied that report. But maybe Newton should be letting his feelings out privately to someone.
He’s not helping anyone by letting his feelings run wild on the field, and he’s not helping anyone by being so adamant about not changing.
“Losing is difficult, period,” said Newton, who won a national championship in college and junior college. “A person that says losing is not difficult, I don’t even want to be around that person. Obviously that person has never won anything relevant in their life. So for a person to say, 'Yeah, we lost and we have to keep going …' yeah, you keep saying that and sooner or later you’re going to look up and be 0-16. You have to take it personal. Do I take it personal? Absolutely right. Do I take it too personal? Who knows? But I’d rather take it too personal than lackadaisical.”
I respect the fact that Newton doesn’t like losing, and that he takes it personally. You want that, to some degree, from every player on your roster.
But Newton, who spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about how he wanted to be a better teammate, isn’t helping himself or his team with his actions.
I realize Newton is only 23. Not many of us were finished products at 23. But, then again, not many of us were NFL quarterbacks at 23, or ever.
When you’re making millions of dollars and are the face of an NFL franchise, the standards are a lot different, and you can’t act like you’re 12.
Newton needs to find a new standard -- one that’s not too high or too low -- that his teammates can follow. It’s time for Newton to grow up, mature or whatever you want to call it.
If he doesn’t, you’re going to see a lot more people pouting on Carolina’s sideline and in the stands.