Here’s the problem with the nonconformist: inevitably, he goes too far. And when it comes to team sports, being part of the group requires, by definition, some level of sacrifice.
Particularly if you want to lead.
Cam Newton still hasn’t figured this out yet. And that’s a rather disappointing fact given what some of us thought roughly a week ago at this time, when Newton was preparing to take his Carolina Panthers onto the field for Super Bowl 50. In the time since, Newton won the NFL Most Valuable Player award and fell flat on his face — at least on those occasions when he wasn’t standing over a fumble with the world championship still on the line. Then Newton acted petulantly (immediately after the game) and downright defiant (days later), which can’t help but make you wonder if he’s still a wounded little teenager trapped inside that downright Herculean body.
His explanation? “I’m a sore loser,” he said.
Well, in a manner of speaking, he’s right. After that beating he and the rest of the Panthers took on Sunday, he’s certainly sore. And based on the result and how Newton acted, he’s a loser, too.
Tell you what: let’s forget the late-game fumble that Newton failed to fight for — and let’s forget his preposterous explanation, too. (Newton can only hope teammates are so forgiving, deep down, no matter what they say publicly.)
Let’s focus on the attitude. Newton was hardly the only Panther on the field who underperformed on Sunday and football is, as we all know, the ultimate team game. But he is also the quarterback, which is to say he’s a leader, and that brings with it certain requirements and responsibilities, whether you like them or not.
One of them is accountability. Another is sacrifice. Both require an understanding of the greater good.
You need to take the job more seriously, Cam. And yourself less so.
For all of the things Newton said yesterday while cleaning out his locker, let’s focus on one sentence: “I know who I am, and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anybody’s expectations because your or anybody else’s expectations will never exceed mine.”
Wow. What a crock. Did Newton read that on a fortune cookie somewhere? Or was it a greeting card? Maybe he’s been reading Shakespeare. To thine own self be true.
Earth to Superman: none of us like the expectations and demands the world has for us. But on some level, we still have to comply. Pick your battles. The big ones are worth fighting, but the small ones really aren’t. In fact, they can get in the way and derail us from bigger, grander achievements, from the greater good.
Oops. There’s that term again. Greater good. That means understanding that the other 52 members of the Panthers roster have the same at stake as you do, from the punter to the gunner to your all-world tight end. If all of you were solely interested in meeting the expectations you had for yourself — and set them accordingly — well, the Panthers locker room would look an awful lot like the ones on the PGA Tour.
Lots of individual corporations. No real sense of team.
The rhetoric? It sounds good. It sounds noble. It even sounds tough. I am who I am. It also reeks of immaturity, suggests no willingness to grow or adapt, conveys stupidity. If you want to joust with the media, fine. Joust. Turn it into some stupid game. But you’re needlessly wasting energy on Wednesday of Super Bowl week, complaining about the obligations, when you should be focused on making it smooth and effortless so that you can focus on what should really matter to you.
Back to that fumble at the end of Super Bowl 50, the one that led to Denver’s final touchdown and the ultimate 24-10 score. It was 16-10 at the time. The game was hardly over. Whatever the cockamamie lie you want to tell yourself — “We didn’t lost the game because of that fumble, I can tell you that,” Newton said — don’t tell it to everyone else. Maybe you didn’t lose because of that fumble, but it’s on the list. And if you didn’t want to jump on that ball for yourself, you owed it to your teammates, fans and coaches to make the best effort possible, to preserve any last shred of a chance the Panthers had at a win.
What gave you the right, at that time, to quit for Thomas Davis, who played with a broken arm? Or for Josh Norman? Or for Luke Kuechly? But then, acknowledging that they had a stake in this would be acknowledging that you owed something to someone else, which would require thinking beyond your own narrow scope.
Tell you what, Cam. The next time around, try doing something for someone else, someone other than yourself. Try meeting their expectations. You might actually even find it a little rewarding.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.