- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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Cam Newton said he wants suggestions, but given how he's played and behaved this season, he may not like the feedback.
After a brutal 19-14 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, Newton again stepped to the interview podium looking dejected and unsure. As usual, he was asked to explain why the Panthers have been so awful and his answer indicated that Newton is more lost than ever and is struggling to be the quarterback who produced a statistical season for the ages last year.
"I'm going to leave this room and I'm going to bring in a suggestion box and I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box because I sure don't know," Newton said to reporters on Sunday. "I really don't. I wish I could tell you. But the only thing I control, sweetheart, is myself. Offensively, I am the leader of this bunch and we haven't been getting the job done."
OK, Cam, here's the first suggestion. How about not referring to a female reporter as "sweetheart"? It's antiquated. It's insulting. It's condescending. This is a professional work environment, one where women haven't always been welcome. And one way to remind a female reporter that she doesn't belong is by calling her "sweetheart."
That, however, wasn't Newton's most egregious error in that postgame news conference. He returned to another bad habit, in which he appears to accept responsibility, but ultimately winds up blaming everyone else.
"The past couple of games have been the same script, by the same director," Newton also said Sunday. "It's kind of getting boring. This taste, this vibe I'm not buying it, man. And I don't know what it is, but something's going to have to change. Something's going to have to change real fast."
If by "same script" Newton meant this was another game in which he was inaccurate, and threw a poor interception, then he would be right.
But here's another wild suggestion for Newton: Why not become the change he so desperately wants to see?
To be completely fair, Newton isn't the only reason the Panthers are losing. His team isn't that talented. General manager Marty Hurney was fired on Monday because he has made a bevy of bad decisions in free agency and in the draft that have prevented the Panthers from becoming a real threat.
Hurney rewarded defensive end Charles Johnson with a $72 million contract before the 2011 season, even though he has never been to a Pro Bowl. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have contracts worth a combined $79.5 million, which includes $43.5 million in guaranteed money. Considering that through six games, Williams has carried the ball only 50 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns and Stewart has no rushing scores this season, the Panthers appear to have grossly overpaid backs they don't like to use.
And let's also not forget that Hurney gave Jake Delhomme a five-year, $42.5 million deal in 2009, which eventually turned into a $12 million salary-cap hit for Carolina when he was cut the following spring.
But even with the lack of support, Newton's demeanor throughout Carolina's struggles frankly has been unacceptable. He's pouted in news conferences and on the sidelines. That Newton takes losing so hard is commendable -- who wants a player who likes to lose? -- but he sometimes comes off as someone more concerned with his own performance than his team's record.
When Newton was putting up record numbers last year, he certainly said all the right things. He said it wasn't about him. He said all he wanted to do is win.
But this year, it has been all about him -- and not in a positive way. This isn't to say that if Cam Newton smiled and was Mr. Positive that the Panthers would have a better record. But there certainly wouldn't be any question about whether Newton is mature enough to lead a franchise.
It's one thing for the media to question whether Newton is fit to lead this team, but his own teammates have noticed his behavior and are concerned about leadership ability, too.
"I watched [Derek Anderson] and Jimmy [Clausen], they don't play in 20-something games last year," wide receiver Steve Smith told The Charlotte Observer after Carolina's 36-7 loss to the Giants (Anderson had replaced Newton for the final series of the game, and Smith lit into the starter on the sideline). "And they get up and they observe and learn. I told [Cam], 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'"
If Newton wants to see better results from his teammates, he should focus on inspiring them rather than alienating them. His talent is immeasurable and based on what he showed as a rookie, it's not hard to imagine Newton finishing his NFL career as one of the best players this league has ever seen.
So I suggest he change his attitude, otherwise that will never happen.
17hEric D. Williams
2dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo