By Brian Klose
After Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton and his team lost Super Bowl 50 24-10 to the Denver Broncos, came under intense media scrutiny after prematurely leaving his post-game interview. Since then, writers across the sports media, including a piece by CBS Sports, have been discussing his actions and criticizing his behavior for “something he could’ve avoided.” Criticism of Newton’s behavior is not new, but many writers’ focus on the quarterback’s post-game interview instead of the winning team’s efforts speaks not only to sport’s media’s fascination with nonstories such as this but also to the National Football League’s strict media access policies.
After the Super Bowl loss Newton took to the podium for his mandatory post-game interview with the press. According to the NFL’s Media Access Policy, “After a reasonable waiting period, defined as 10-12 minutes maximum after the completion of the game, the home and visiting team locker room areas will be opened to all accredited media with immediate access to all players and the head coach. To relieve congestion in the locker room, each club must bring the head coach and at least one star player of the game to an interview area as soon as possible.” Newton was that star player.
Newton complied with the NFL’s policy, taking questions from reporters regarding his thoughts on the loss. To the discredit of the reporters ten of the 14 questions required only yes or no answers, which Newton gave. Newton’s frustration with reporters came in his longest answer, including the sound bite “They just played better than us. I don’t know what you want me to say.” After taking a few more questions, Newton stood and left the podium. Towards the end of his interview, Broncos defensive players were audible behind his raving about their efforts to stop Newton, which they had every right to do. Whether or not this affected Newton’s decision to leave his conference abruptly is unclear but is certainly not out of the question.
Much of the reports following Newton’s brief interview described the quarterback as “immature” and “unprofessional” and accused him of hypocrisy because of his game-day rituals and public confidence in himself and his team. Charles Barkley, who is a self-proclaimed fan of Newton, was one of those critics. “The one thing about sports – you don’t get to just be happy when the good things happen. You have to be a man and professional when you lose, and he did not do a good job of that after the Super Bowl, but you just have to be more professional than that,” he said. “I’d tell Cam I love him, but he was 100 percent wrong in that instance.”
With Barkley’s logic, Newton is allowed to show his emotions and excitement when he performs well and wins, but he is barred from showing his disappointment and frustration following a loss and an admittedly poor performance. He must “be a man” and take the podium with an insincere sense of professionalism.
Is this expected of all players and coaches? Are players and coaches of the same caliber as Newton held to the same scrutiny he experiences? Newton, who is usually perceived as an invincible player with unrivaled passion, showed his imperfections and humanity through his post-game behavior. He showed his genuine reactions to his performance and made his frustrations with the press known.
Instead of praising candid and human behavior like Newton’s, sports media chooses to find anything in a player’s actions to dissect and make an example of. One of the most recent similar cases involved the now-retired Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was famous for his soft-spoken, if not completely silent, pre and post game interviews. During the media day for Super Bowl XLIX in early 2015, Lynch gave his classic quote regarding his frustration with the NFL’s media policies: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” While Lynch during his career was not as heavily scrutinized for his actions as Newton currently is, his case adds to the sports media’s catalogue of nonstories, begging questions regarding the media’s portrayal of players and how they really are. Newton and Lynch both chose not to conform to the forced professionalism of “proper” media interaction, exposing the NFL’s questionably strict media policies and the media’s fascination with players who do things their own way.