BY OWEN SANBORN
Dressed in run-down black and silver get up, Cam Newton stares outwardly at a sea of waiting media members. Usually after a tough loss— especially when it is the Super Bowl— an athlete will elect to hit the showers to cool off (both literally and figuratively) before facing the music. Not Cam.
Fresh out of the grip of defeat, Newton is asked different questions about the game. Some more specific than others, but no question receiving more than two to three words of response. The general theme of the transcript (before Cam cut the visit short), read something along the lines of: “Got outplayed, bro.”
And he was right. The Carolina Panthers did get outplayed. But in order for a media member to do their job correctly, a sufficient quote to feed the millions of football fans out there is a must. Newton was not giving anyone anything close to a sufficient quote, and a week-long narrative smiting his actions surfaced because of it.
Was Newton wrong for not separating the loss and interacting with the media like a mature leader of an NFL franchise would? Probably. However, pundits and fans alike consistently point out that today’s athletes lack the proper passion in comparison to those of yesteryear. Newton is a passionate player that had just suffered a strenuous defeat. Reliving the experience to hundreds of people whom he most likely does not share a relationship with is not an easy situation to be in.
We expect a ton from our athletes both on the field and off. Our idealistic culture implores them to be excellent role models for our children and to always put on a fake smile when times are tough. Perhaps we forget that they are still in fact human and not able to preserve the proper composure and fortitude 100 percent of the time. Outbursts are going to come and the media is going to have to be cognizant of that.
At the same time, athletes need to be aware that the media has a job to do too. Formulating a unique narrative up against a strict deadline is a tough predicament to find oneself within. They need the athlete (most notably the quarterback of the team) to be cooperative, so everyone can move on with their business.
Unsurprisingly, Cam is not the only athlete to be short with the media, and he most certainly will not be the last. Marshawn Lynch infamously got fined outrageous sums of money for skipping media appearances before ultimately giving in and answering every question the same: “Thanks for asking.”
People like myself (a non-media member in my early 20s), found the charade to be a real hoot. Lynch was making a point. He did not need or want the media to paint a certain narrative about him. Instead, he controlled the message by emphasizing and reemphasizing his thoughts over and over: “Thanks for asking.”
More traditional members of the media were rightfully outraged, striking the claim that writing a story is difficult without receiving a quote from one of the most popular players in the league. In a way, they were correct. Again, it is a part of an athlete’s duty to expose themselves to the media and promote a mutually-beneficial relationship.
I am not saying that they have to tell their deepest and darkest secrets, but there are ways to talk around a line of questioning without coming off as standoffish. Notable superstars like Tom Brady and Derek Jeter have done it for years. It comes with the territory and helps sustain the popularity of their respective sport. Fans want to know more about what goes on in a player’s head or how their personalities mesh with the outside world. Sites such as the Players Tribune exist primarily off of this basis.
The struggle between the media and athletes is not going to go anywhere. With around the clock coverage of sports becoming the societal norm, players are going to have their guard up much more than they did in say, the ‘70s, when members of the media rode on the same planes as teams. Access was much more in-depth and personal back then.
As both a reader and fan, I long for those days. Do I think we can get back to that point someday? Most likely not. The relationship is too contentious between the two parties and I believe that the aforementioned Players Tribune is going to be the hub for athletes to take control and push their own narratives.
Thanks for asking, though.