By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The national reaction to Cam Newton's performance on the field and at the podium Sunday night in Santa Clara -- a firestorm which continues to rage on Facebook, Twitter and various social media platforms in addition to to the traditional media of radio, TV and print -- is perhaps a phenomenon that is as much a function of its timing in history than it is anything else.
Surely, a star player has put forth a disappointing effort on a sport's grand stage in the past, and certainly, players (and coaches, ahem) have been brisk or openly rude to the media countless times in past. Yet the combination of this week's events was a perfect storm, in the sense that Newton was already a lightning rod for debate, and the fact that social media can put a microphone on conversations that might previously have been retained to living rooms and taverns across the country.
And on Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Newton spoke, an action which will further fan the flames of the national discussion and debate about his effort and maturity levels.
"Well, I ain't got no more tears to cry," the NFL's MVP said when asked about his Super Bowl reflections. "Obviously I had a lot of time to think about it. I've seen so much blown out of proportion, but at the end of the day, when you invest so much time and when you sacrifice so much, and things don't go as planned, I think emotions take over. I think that's what happens. And as far as trying to be like this person, trying to be like that person, I heard numerous quotes about, 'What if this person was in that situation? How would he have handled it? Well, we've seen this person do that, how he would have handled it.'
"The truth of the matter is I'm not trying to be this person. Nor am I trying to be that person. I've said it since day one: I am who I am, I know what I'm capable of, and I know where I'm going, and I don't have to conform to anybody else's wants for me to do. I'm not that guy. If you want me to be that type of person, I'm not that. And I'm happy to say that.
"This league is a great league with or without me, I understand that, and I am my own person. I take pride in that, and that's pretty much how I feel."
Newton said he feels no regret for how he handled his postgame media availability.
"I'm human. I've never once said that I was perfect. I never proclaimed that I was perfect. But at the end of the day, people pick and they do things of that sort, and the truth of the matter is who are you to say that your way is right? That's what I don't understand," Newton said. "What makes your way right? I've been on record as saying I'm a sore loser. Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I'm gonna show you a loser. I'm not here to … it's not a popularity contest. I'm here to win football games."
What Newton said on that point is fair. People take athletes' interactions with media too seriously. These interactions are exactly that -- interactions. It's nothing like a normal conversation between two people or among a group of people. It's a forced setting in which the only way to appear genuine is to be phony.
So if a player or coach or whoever is mad after losing a game ... does it really need to turn into a national news story?
While Newton's attitude Sunday night at the podium may not have been courteous to the reporters asking him bad questions, and while the behavior need not be revered as being exceptional, asking him to apologize for being emotional is every bit as ridiculous as was killing his character in the first place.
Newton's explanation for his postgame demeanor was fine, but when he was asked about his effort -- or lack thereof -- to recover his own fumble late in the game, some anger clearly bubbled back to the surface.
"What would you want me to do?" Newton asked the reporter who inquired about the fumble. The reporter then noted that "people are saying" that Newton should have made some attempt to fall on the ball, considering he had a pretty open window to go for it.
"OK," Newton said. "Umm. I didn't get the fumble, but we could play tit for tat. I've seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions, and their effort afterwards, they don't go. I don't dive on one fumble, because the way my leg was, it could've been [contorted] in a way."
This ... this is where Cam's not exactly making a whole lot of sense. After Newton lost the ball, he could have fallen directly on top of it. His legs did not need to be involved in any way. All he needed to do was fall on the football, and at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he could have presumably won a wrestling match with DeMarcus Ware's left arm.
Legs? Not a factor. That is, unless you wait too long and then find yourself in a mess of bodies standing straight up. Then, it could be difficult. But in the situation in which Newton found himself, it would have been easy to flop on top of the ball.
Plus, they teach you when you're barely old enough to strap on a helmet, that when the football is on the ground, you do whatever you can to recover it.
"OK, you say my effort? I didn't dive down. I fumbled, that's fine. But that game wasn't built off of … we didn't lose that game because of that fumble, I can tell you that," Newton stated. "But you can condemn and say, 'Oh man, he gave up. He this, that and the third,' but hey, as long as my teammates know, as long as my coaches know, as long as anybody that's following this team knows. It's easy for a person to nitpick and say, 'Aw man, Cam this, he gave up.' That's cool, that's fine. I'm a grown man, I can understand that. But to say some things along the lines of that, and to say it to my face, that's extremely different."
The thing is ... the Panthers did lose that game because of the fumble.
At the time of the fumble, they trailed by six points with over four minutes left in the game. They also had all three timeouts. Yes, by recovering the ball, there would hardly be any guarantee that the Panthers would win the game. But they would have stayed alive. That's the point.
They would have punted on the fourth down, stopped the Denver offense which was doing absolutely nothing all game long, and taken over with plenty of time to at least try to mount a scoring drive.
But instead, Newton didn't dive on the ball, and the Broncos recovered at the 4-yard line. They scored a touchdown, converted the two-point conversion, and took a 14-point lead. The game was over. Carolina had lost.
Given his off-the-charts athleticism, it's likely that when Newton saw the ball, he wasn't thinking about diving on top of it. He was likely thinking about picking it up and turning it into a positive play. If that's the case, it surely wasn't a lack of courage or an unwillingness to get hit that kept him from recovering the football. But it was a lack of awareness. And his comment Tuesday about not losing the game due to the fumble seems to confirm that.
From a Panthers perspective, that's something they can live with. Newton is 26 years old, and just completed his fifth season as a professional. It was a remarkable season, too, as evidenced by 48 of 50 voters selecting him as the league MVP.
But all quarterbacks continue to learn throughout their careers, and though Newton may not have shown perfect awareness in a moment of distress in the biggest game of his life, that's not to say he won't in the future.
And in terms of the off-field commentary? Newton remains rightly unconcerned with that noise.
"So many people talked about the Carolina Panthers, so many people talked about Cam, so many people talked about Coach Rivera. But the truth of the matter is, nobody on this team got suspended for disciplinary reasons. You never once heard anybody on this team have to sit out games because of what they did. You never heard Coach, nor a coordinator say that these guys wasn't coachable. And so, pretty much everything that people say about us is fluff. They say Cam's a thug, they say players on the team are classless, but I mean … straight up, we are professional athletes. Like I say, before you are quick to assume anything, what makes your way right?
"If I offended somebody, that's cool. But I know who I am, and I'm not about to conform nor bend for anybody's expectations," Newton added. "Because your or anybody else's expectations will never exceed mine."
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