By PAT YASINSKAS for TonySoftli.com
Cam Newton. The guy is an absolute clown and I don’t mean that in a good way.
I saw and heard evidence of Newton’s immaturity for years, but I always kind of shrugged it off. That’s because Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, the man I respect and trust most in the entire NFL, assured me that when the team did its extensive research before taking Newton with the first overall pick in 2011 they didn’t see any of the negatives that some people were talking about.
It turns out, the Panthers got fooled. Newton has shown some clownish tendencies through the years – that childish stunt he pulled when he walked out on the media after the Super Bowl loss and some of his antics and body language on the sideline.
But that is the kind of stuff you can shrug off because Newton usually makes up for it by being one of the best athletes on the planet. But the man who thinks of himself as Superman isn’t going to get off so easy after what he pulled this week. Nor should he. At a time when NFL players are making lots of noise about societal injustices, Newton created one of his own.
He was asked a very legitimate question by Jourdan Rodrique, a female reporter for The Charlotte Observer. Rodrique asked Newton a question about the routes of his receivers.
That’s where Newton threw what may have been the costliest interception of his career. Newton put on a big smile (and we’ll elaborate on that smile in just a bit), laughed and said he found it “funny’’ that a female was asking about routes. In 10 seconds, Newton set relations between the NFL and the media back about 30 years. That’s a shame because I have seen some very talented female reporters through the years – reporters like Charean Williams (The Orlando Sentinel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Pro Football Talk), Mary Kay Cabot (The Cleveland Plain-Dealer) and Viv Bernstein (The Raleigh News & Observer) and they’re as good as any male.
Although I worked for The Observer for nearly 10 years, I do not know Rodrique. She came well after my time. But former colleagues Scott Fowler and Tom Sorensen and Joe Person, who now sits in my old chair as the paper’s lead writer, all say wonderful things about her. I also know that Mike Persinger and Gary Schwab, my two bosses at The Observer, do not hire people who are incompetent.
Rodrique is far from incompetent and she didn’t ask a “funny’’ question. Newton fumbled it badly. Then, he made things worse when Rodrique approached him privately after the group interview ended. Rodrique said Newton did not apologize and actually made things worse. He also admitted that he didn’t know Rodrique’s name even though she has covered the team for more than a year. That’s a common complaint among reporters on the Panthers’ beat. He doesn’t know any of their names. I’m not saying he has to be their friend, but a little common courtesy goes a long way. Former Carolina quarterbacks Steve Beuerlein and Jake Delmomme knew every reporter by name and that brought them a lot of goodwill.
Newton has no goodwill with the media and that’s his fault. Now, let’s go back to his smile for a second. It turns out there is history there. Shortly before Newton was drafted, Pro Football Weekly put out its annual draft guide. Draft guru Nolan Nawrocki wrote one of the biggest hatchet jobs I’ve ever seen in Newton’s scouting report.
In part Nawrocki wrote, “Very disingenuous – has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. …Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law – does not command respect from teammates and will struggle to win a locker room.’’
Talk about red flags! But a lot of people put the blame on Nawrocki, just like they’re doing now with Rodrique.
About the same time as the scouting report came out, I went down to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to do some pre-draft stories. Newton was there, training for the scouting combine. I knew most of the staff at IMG and I heard some horror stories about Newton. Players get around the IMG grounds on golf carts. I heard repeated stories about how Newton would drive his golf cart to one destination, leave it there to catch a ride with someone else and expect staff members to fetch his cart. The also talked about the same sense of entitlement Nawrocki did.
I don’t know Nawrocki either and I have no idea how he’s reacting to Newton’s latest incident. If he’s taking a “See, I told you so’’ attitude, he’s got every right. Speaking of rights, let’s go back to Rodrique.
She has rights too. She has a right to be treated fairly and with respect. She also deserves a face-to-face apology from Newton. Yeah, I know he eventually tweeted out an apology of sorts, but that’s not good enough. He needs to walk up to her in the locker room and say, “Hey, Jourdan, can I talk to you for a minute?’’ And then walk out into the hallway with her and apologize one-on-one.
Newton is no longer a kid. He’s 28. He’s been around consummate pros like Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil and Luke Kuechly throughout his career, but none of their class has worn off on Newton.
Quite simply, it’s past time for Newton to grow up. Until he does, more and more people are going to find him “funny’’.
Pat Yasinskas is a graduate student at Saint Leo (Fla.) University and former full-time sports writer for more than 20 years. He is writing occasional columns for TonySoftli.com this season. Yasinskas and Softli have had a professional relationship since the late 1990s, when Softli was an executive for the Carolina Panthers and Yasinskas was a writer for The Charlotte Observer.