It’s fitting, maybe expected, maybe even inevitable that a player as defined by his personality and his image as Cam Newton will end up be questioned just as much for his words as for his actions. It’s not unfair either. For as understandable as Cam Newton’s terse, depressive press conference may have been, it’ll be as defining an image from this Super Bowl as his on-field impression of Bartleby the Scrivener.
Newton spoke for about three minutes. Only one of his answers was longer than just a word or three. He got up and left of his own accord, tired of not-answering questions. How you take it depends heavily on whether you believe an athlete owes anything to the media minutes after the biggest disappointment of his life, and on whether postgame performance matters in terms of, you know, performance, but if you do buy that this stuff matters, and especially if you’re looking for a reason to rest Cam Newton (or a humbling moment to sledgehammer a hole in his flawless season-long facade), this was manna.
The official transcript is the most poetic artifact, even if it’s not entirely accurate. The quote sheet handed out isn’t chronological, and misses a few questions. (A fuller, unofficial transcript can be found here.) But it sure is something:
The video of the end of the presser shows Newton declaring “I’m done” and walking out. Deservedly or not, it’s iconic too:
Awkward as hell, and you can’t even see the most awkward part. You hear the susurrus of voices in that clip? There was another press conference going at the exact same time, in the same room, just on the other side of a curtain. Broncos CB Chris Harris was talking about how they had shut Newton down. I don’t know if Newton could hear it, but if he could, he heard Harris saying things like “We knew he couldn’t throw on us” and “Did y’all see him dance today? He didn’t dance.”
Update: Here’s better audio of the moment Cam ended his press conference. He absolutely could hear Harris:
It must have been a shitty situation for Newton, but he’ll find no sympathy. All season long the Panthers’ unofficial creed, in the face of criticism of their demonstrative celebrations, was to tell other teams that if you don’t want us to dance, keep us out of the end zone. Well, it goes both ways. If you don’t want to sit in a sad press conference after losing a Super Bowl and face painful questions while you can hear your opponents celebrating across the room, don’t lose the Super Bowl. It doesn’t mean Newton owed the press anything, or should have pretended to be happy, or should feel guilty about not being in the mood to talk after a loss—only that there were an awful lot of people waiting for this moment, and he gave them everything they could possibly have wanted.
The book on Newton is that he’s a good winner and a bad loser. The Panthers didn’t do much losing this year, so everyone kind of forgot those stories from his early pro season when he gained a reputation for sulking. I think that’s human and understandable—you probably don’t have the drive to be a great athlete if you don’t love winning and hate losing to potentially unhealthy extents. But shit, this is Cam Newton, and opinions of him are already carved in stone. There’s almost no way to address his Super Bowl flameout and his press-conference frost without bringing years of built-in biases to the analysis. The only potential defense is to argue that no one should care about a postgame interview. An awful lot of people do, though.