The first item in Peter King's latest MMQB column is about Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and "maturation." Specifically, it is about how one of the NFL's most important figures refuses to set aside childish things and instead wallows in a state of doltish adolescence. When, the reader is left to wonder, will Peter King finally grow up?
The column begins with King's recounting of a recent one-on-one with Newton. The two haven't spoken since February 2011, when King tweeted the following:
Newton: "I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon.'' Ron Rivera, Chan Gailey, John Harbaugh blanch.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) February 22, 2011
But the other day at training camp, Newton approached the writer—King is very clear about who approached whom—looking to make amends. In King's telling, this is a story about Cam Newton taking a big step, swallowing his pride, and being a man:
He got right to the point. He said most of the people close to him wanted him to never speak to me again. Ignore me. I was one of the haters, so don't deal with me; just deal with the media who were either fair—in their minds—or consistently supportive. "But I am my own person," he said. "I think for myself. I make my own decisions. I decided I wanted to talk to you to see if we could work this out. I don't want to walk the other way every time I see you. That's not what a man does."
Now here's King:
"I've thought about what I'd have done differently," I told Newton, standing there in the auditorium. But I said we weren't face-to-face, and maybe if we were I'd have cautioned him about it; I wasn't sure. But I just figured he'd say it to someone else at some point, and so I used it.
The real pity, in other words, is that they weren't face to face at the time, and that King didn't have a chance to "caution" him—presumably about offering up quotes that would only draw the baleful attention of the hopeless tight-asses who run football teams. This is a strange thing for a journalist to say. This is not a strange thing for Peter King to say.
Here are some things I think I think about all this:
1. Cam Newton, in a pre-draft interview organized by the apparel brand he endorses, said a Rovellishly annoying, but ultimately innocuous thing about wanting to be an "entertainer and an icon."
2. Peter King accurately relayed the annoying but innocuous quote to his Twitter followers.
2a. Peter King's "Ron Rivera, Chan Gailey, John Harbaugh blanch" was an obnoxious little fillip, however, suggesting that the quote wasn't actually innocuous because, as he later explained, "it would be something that would raise eyebrows among NFL teams, who like their prospects to be single-minded, not entering the league thinking about anything except being the best player they can be."
3. This—the idea that the NFL is a league of austere blue-collar types who never give a thought to their celebrity or their earnings potential outside the NFL or to anything, really, beyond being good at football—is what's actually immature about the whole affair. This is a child's view of professional football and the "jolly apes" who play the game. But is also useful illusion for GMs and coaches to maintain, as a means of exerting dominion over the workforce, which is why it's proven so durable.
4. There's no law requiring Peter King, or any NFL writer, to be deferential to someone else's fiction. If he thinks there's nothing wrong with an athlete's stated wish to be an entertainer—and as a sportswriter who helps make celebrities of football players, as a famous journalist who frequently appears on television, he shouldn't—then why isn't he questioning the judgment of those who do? What about the maturity of the adults who still believe in fairy tales about football players?
5. Peter King expresses second thoughts not about his initial framing of the Newton quote as an issue of the quarterback's seaworthiness, but about the fact that he didn't caution Newton, that he didn't guide the young man in the right direction. Peter King leads the league in unctuous paternalism.
6. Peter King's column about the "maturation of Cam Newton" adduces no evidence of maturation except the apparent fact that Newton looked Peter King "straight in the eye" and humbled himself before the great man. In the moral universe of the NFL, the ultimate sign of maturity is prostrating yourself before an authority figure, even the ones who occasionally act like babies.