Cam Newton couldn't even handle the softballs.
As a room full of sports reporters tiptoed around the sulky quarterback with soft, flattering question after soft, flattering question, Newton just sat there hunched over in his hoodie, issuing spiteful, one-word answers at the post-Super Bowl press conference like a kid who has just had a tantrum because his mommy wouldn't buy him candy at the checkout line.
The 26-year-old Carolina Panthers player, who a day earlier was all smiles and cocky assurance in front of the same reporters, was the epitome of a sore loser. He walked out of the press conference on Feb. 7 less than three minutes in.
It wasn't long before those same sports reporters, who got nothing from the Panthers quarterback, began publishing dozens of stories defending his childish behavior. Three of them -- including Charlotte Observer football beat writer Joe Person, ESPN's Ed Weder, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport -- all tweeted excuses on behalf of Newtown, saying the petulant quarterback took offense at what he was hearing.
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Just what were those tough questions Newton couldn't handle? Most weren't even questions, just declarations of support and empathy, as if sports reporters are paid to provide a shoulder for multimillionaire athletes to cry on.
"Obviously you're disappointed, you've won tremendous games before, and I know you've had some tough loses too, I mean, it's on the biggest stage, it's difficult, I know."
"I know you’re disappointed not just for yourself, but for your teammates. It’s got to be real tough."
"Do we sometimes forget that defenses can still take apart the offenses in this game?"
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Are you kidding me? These are supposed to be the best and brightest sports reporters, interviewing a star quarterback after the biggest game of the year, and that's all they can muster?
As for Newton himself, he made the mistake of thinking he'd already won the game -- that because he was leading a squad with a historically potent offense, and Vegas oddsmakers picked his team as the strong favorite, his competition would roll over and accept its inevitable fate as Super Bowl loser.
It doesn't work that way. Ever.
The greatest champions in the history of sports -- Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Roger Federer, Ronda Rousey, Wayne Gretzky -- didn't waltz onto their respective playing fields and rings, expecting the competition to roll over. They fought tooth and nail for their victories, realizing that champions are people who do everything they can to win, regardless of personal stats or the effort it takes. These are people who know champions have their trophies, rings and belts because they trained and played harder than the other guys.
Newton needs to learn from his mistakes, and return next year a different player. He's 26 and has five seasons under his belt, which means he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt afforded to young kids who say stupid things -- especially in the NFL, where athletes have much shorter careers than their basketball- and baseball-playing counterparts.
If Newton accepts responsibility and uses the loss as motivation, he could find himself sitting before next year's post-Super Bowl press conference a champion. If he doesn't, he'll make a nice cautionary tale for coaches warning young players about how easy it is to waste talent.