Unless you count yourself a citizen of Broncos Country or happen to love defense, you were probably bored or at least disappointed with Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, the headline-dominating spectacle after the game was not Denver linebacker Von Miller’s MVP performance and his domination of a pitiful Panthers offensive line. Instead, it was about the easiest movement Carolina quarterback Cam Newton made all evening — walking away from his post-game press conference. Naturally, this sent the sports “blog-o-sphere” into a frenzy, but honestly, his actions would be completely permissible if it happened consistently to all players. But it doesn’t, because Cam Newton is something the NFL has never seen before. He is the perfect combination of strength, athleticism and speed, and no player has more fun playing the game and celebrating his team’s accomplishments.
There will always be people — and especially sports fans — that deny this double standard to be true. But there are constant examples that prove such a standard exists. Monday night, just a day after Cam’s walkout, proved another fine example. In Duke’s basketball game against Louisville, sophomore Blue Devil Grayson Allen found himself on the ground after a Duke possession. Allen then clearly raised his right leg to purposefully trip Louisville’s Raymond Spalding and was assessed with a Flagrant 1 Foul, allowing Allen to stay in the game. A Monday night college basketball game and the aftermath of the Super Bowl are two entirely different stages, but examine the actual harm done. Newton left a press conference during which he was already giving one-word answers and making it clear that he would rather be almost anywhere else. Allen deliberately tried to harm another player.
The next day after each player’s respective incidents, television, radio and online commentaries would not stop criticizing Newton. However, they were nearly silent over Allen. In fact, ESPN almost treated the Allen incident with humor, asking if he was turning into the next hated white Duke player by playing off a decades-long stereotype about the team and its penchant for talented white players who behave dubiously on the court.
Newton is certainly not the only athlete to have displayed poor sportsmanship or lack of grace in losing. An ironic example would be the victor in Super Bowl 50, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. In Super Bowl XLIV, the New Orleans Saints upset Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17, and Manning was quick to exit the field and did not shake a single hand. Though it garnered some attention, it failed to elicit the widespread condemnation Newton’s actions received. On Monday, one could hear several analysts say Newton should have behaved more like Manning because Manning “wrote the book” on post-game etiquette. Unlike Manning six years ago, however, Newton actually stayed on the field to shake the hands of the victors. But that was hardly mentioned in the ensuing coverage.
Somehow, people feel this criticism is uniquely warranted because of Newton’s style of play. During the Panthers’ 15-1 regular season, Newton started a number of celebratory trends like “dabbing” and giving footballs to children after scores. When the Super Bowl became frustrating, Newton’s change in mood was clear. Nonetheless, Newton is no different than any other NFL quarterback. Season after season, New England quarterback Tom Brady can be seen shouting a tirade of profanities into the camera or toward officials, but Brady doesn’t get letters from parents about how his actions negatively affect America’s youth.
There is not an athlete in this country immune from fair criticism. Both as fans and citizens, we have a legitimate interest in wanting our athletes to serve as role models and quality adults off the field. There are also obvious times when athletes of all backgrounds fail to adhere themselves to that standard. It is abhorrent that both the media and sports organizations themselves choose to delineate between similar cases and treat them differently. The problem is not that analysts and pundits want Johnny Manziel to get the help he needs for his various struggles and off-the-field problems. The problem is that they, and we as a collective whole, do not have the same wishes and sympathies for all players who struggle with problems, abuses or addictions.
In due time, another story will surface revealing someone else’s mistakes or harmful actions. As the NFL offseason begins and the Panthers begin to take stock of their loss, we also need to take stock not of the criticism we make, but of the standards and situations in which we choose to make it.
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