|Cam Newton's look during a thrashing from the Giants fired up his critics. (Getty Images)|
It's Auburn all over again for Cam Newton. America is talking about him, and America has concluded: He's guilty.
At Auburn he was guilty of cheating, of being in cahoots with his father, Cecil, who tried to sell his son to the highest bidder. Now the franchise quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton is guilty of something more damning:
He's a pouter. A baby. A loser.
That's the picture being painted of Newton after weeks of stories and quotes and a cartoon in the Charlotte newspaper and now the tweet heard 'round the world, from an NFL writer who reported that Newton was the last Carolina player out of the locker room after Sunday's last-second loss to Atlanta. The tweet noted that Newton "held up team buses for long time" because he was too busy "setting record most lotion applied post shower."
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This is where we are with Cam Newton: Timing his personal hygiene habits and drawing a parallel to his leadership skills, because Tom Brady and Robert Griffin III would be much faster with the lotion or the hair dryer after a last-second loss.
Enough's enough -- just like with the Auburn stuff a few years ago, when I wrote the same thing: Enough's enough. Where's that dude who did the "leave Britney alone" video? (Warning: salty language.) He needs to get back here and take up for Cam Newton.
And before we go farther: Don't play the race card, and don't accuse me of playing it either. This isn't about race, not from what I can tell. That sounds like a hard thing to prove -- this isn't about race -- but I can do it in two words:
America has drawn the same conclusion of Cutler: He's a pouter. A baby. A loser. Hell, America has gone after Cutler worse than it has gone after Newton, unless I've missed the website devoted to slacker Newton, starring photo-shopped pictures of the Carolina QB with a cigarette dangling from his unimpressed lips. That's where we are with Jay Cutler, and he deserves it. He's been in the league seven years, so he is what he is -- and what he always will be -- and Jay Cutler is a self-centered slacker, a finger-pointer, an aloof jerk.
Jay Cutler is also white.
So let's not accuse Newton's critics of being racist, of attacking Newton because he's black -- because that's an intellectually lazy argument. Let's not be intellectually lazy, huh? Let's think this thing through, and get right to the central issue:
Cam Newton has an image problem, and it's not entirely of Cam Newton's making.
Now listen, just like I'm not calling his critics racist, I'm not calling Newton blameless. A few weeks ago against the New York Giants he hung a towel over his head and semi-watched the final minutes of a blowout loss. It was a bad look for anyone, especially the franchise quarterback, and his own teammate called him out for it.
But this is perspective: Cam Newton doesn't have much experience with losing. He doesn't have much experience with playing. He spent one season as a starter at Auburn, and this is his second season in the NFL. All told, that's 33 starts in Division I or the NFL. He has lost only 13 times.
Give him time, huh?
Not all the time in the world, no. If Newton is still hanging a towel on his head in a few years, not really paying attention to the final minutes of a blowout loss in 2015, then give him the full Cutler treatment. Someone can create a website where Newton is the subject of photoshop taunting -- not with a cigarette in his mouth, but with a towel on his head. By the year 2015, have at it.
But now? It's way too soon, Sage Rosenfels, to assume the worst about Newton, leader, just like it was too soon during that magical 2010 season at Auburn to assume the worst of Newton, cheater -- that he was a mercenary, a player-for-hire who tried to sell himself to one SEC school before ending up at another. That was the storyline America believed with help from a handful of reporters, aided by a few SEC coaches who told those reporters to jump and were rewarded with "how high" hit pieces.
It wasn't fair to Newton then, and it's not fair to Newton now. For whatever reason, this guy seems to bring out the worst in his critics, from that bizarrely cruel scouting report before the 2011 NFL Draft to that cartoon in the local paper to Sage Rosenfels' cruel reading of Newton's mind.
The prevailing school of thought has it that Newton is sulking, soft, mentally weak. I don't know Cam Newton at all, but I can tell you one thing: The guy's not mentally weak. That 2010 season at Auburn was one of the more impressive things we've seen from the standpoint of mental toughness. The world was caving in on Newton -- NCAA sniffing, reporters searching, competing coaches snarking -- and Newton ignored the hysteria and painted a Mona Lisa of a college football season, a dominant individual effort that somehow got better as the noise around him got louder.
That guy's soft? That guy's a baby, a loser?
That guy was a winner. He was a rock. He can be that winner, that rock, again in the NFL -- though he has to prove it. It's on Cam Newton to be as good as we all know he can be, and to lead the Panthers deep into the playoffs. Maybe it never happens, maybe he really is a self-centered bust, and if so we can let Newton have it in a few years.
But it's too soon now. It's too soon to mock Cam Newton. It's not just unseemly -- it's unfair.