Column: The misperception of Cam Newton and the media

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s postgame press conference and overall demeanor Sunday was the recipient of rabid media judgement following the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Newton was short and languid in his responses, delivering a series of one-liners or, in some answers, one-worders. All the while, Newton sat with an expression and a stature that ventures far from the realm of stoic and pronounced.

In classic media fashion, Newton’s oral and physical presentation was picked apart. Hot take artists pounced on the opportunity to unfurl their subjective and empowering condemnation of a player to mass audiences, typecasting Newton as a “sore loser”, a “me-first player” and a “classless individual.”

Given the chance to voice his regret and present an apologetic tone Tuesday for his postgame antics, Newton, for the most part, rebuffed.

While Newton said he isn’t perfect and never said he was, he eventually embellished in thoughts of individualism, and, in turn held his character to a greater standard than his reputation.

“I don’t have to conform to what anybody wants. I am my own person,” Newton said. “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 because, you or anybody’s expectations will never exceed mine.”

In other words, Newton cast a middle finger accompanied by a nonverbal “fuck you” at the commonplace trend of athlete’s adhering to PR terminology and strategy, and instead chose to remain genuine in his comments and overall character.

However, despite the growing presence of a generation, in which individualism and a refusal to conform to societal norms has never been more celebrated and accepted, Newton and athletes remain subject to considerable scorn if they don’t adhere to the bland gamesmanship of speaking to the media.

There is something to be admired by Newton’s postgame comments as well as the ones he made Tuesday. They were candid and frank, reaching a level of sincerity, that Newton’s most-public adversaries—the media—cannot touch.

As is typical in the opportunist landscape of the media, the reaction, interpretation and coverage of Newton’s comments were juiced up on steroids for the sake of the everlasting “narrative”, which drives ratings and audience interest far more than the preached objectivity of media ethics that have been weeded out of the profession.

News doesn’t sell, information doesn’t sell, analysis doesn’t sell; narrative sells. Conflict sells. The sensationalized opinions of media personas and networks sell.

That self-created narrative is necessary for the media because it carries public interest far beyond the moment when the final buzzer sounds, the game ends and the telecast goes off the air.

Those conflict-driven narratives exist naturally, in the form of the concussion issue, domestic violence, the impure business of “The Shield” and the lack of diversity in the league’s ownership and overall power structure. But the complexity, scale and overarching theme of their existence is far too extensive for the casual NFL fan and, thus, are neglected by media conglomerates.

In the place of said narratives is a simpler one.

One in which Cam Newton stands as the recipient of invective disdain for his decision to breach the confines of normalcy and, instead, act through an authentic expression of individualism.

Bradley Heltzel can be contacted at [email protected]