Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Cam Newton had surgery on March 30. The procedure repaired a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder—no small thing for any quarterback, especially so for a franchise-caliber QB like Newton. Newton was first injured in Week 14, yet he continued to play in the season’s final four games, even though the Panthers had been eliminated from the playoffs. Now Newton, who won’t throw a football until the end of June but is optimistic he’ll be good to go by training camp, says it’s because he had something to prove. Which was what, exactly?

From Carolina’s team website (via Pro Football Talk):

Newton admitted he’s wondered whether playing the final four weeks of last season with a partially torn rotator cuff was worth it.

“But at the end of the day, I felt as if there was another thing that was achieved,” Newton said. “I wear the ‘C’ patch on my jersey with great pride, and I feel as if it comes around again, would I reconsider it? Yeah, but also knowing those guys that I’m going to give every single thing that I have to give for this game, for the fans, for my teammates, especially.”

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“Was it smart? People may say it wasn’t, but at the end of the day, I think the bigger picture was I’m one of the leaders on this team. I just want to set a good standard that, listen, the team comes first and I’m just going to put myself in position to try to lead this team as much as possible.”

Playing hurt when your team has nothing left to achieve is an objectively bad idea, and the “I did it because I needed to be a leader” excuse is not a particularly good one. After all, the Panthers shut down Luke Kuechly weeks after he had been cleared to return from a concussion, and nobody batted an eye.

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But Newton isn’t Kuechly, and if he felt pressure to put himself at risk in meaningless games, it’s not hard to see why. This is the guy who got benched for not wearing a fucking tie and slagged for having the temerity to floss his teeth on the sideline. Newton still has his “leadership qualities” questioned even though he’s been an NFL MVP who led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. The only thing Newton proved by playing meaningless games with a bum shoulder is what’s already obvious about his critics.