There probably has never been a more polarizing figure in Alabama over the course of my lifetime than former Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton. In this state, you either really love him or you really hate him based on your collegiate allegiances.
For Auburn fans, he is close to a deity for his heroics during the 2010 football season, including a remarkable 28-27 come-from-behind win in Tuscaloosa. For many Alabama fans (including notorious tree-poisoner Harvey Updyke), he is a subhuman lowlife who robbed their beloved Crimson Tide of the 2010 Iron Bowl, thus depriving Alabama of a shot at another national championship.
Although Newton only played at Auburn University one season, Auburn claims him as their own since he ultimately did graduate from the university with a degree in sociology.
Fast-forward five years. Although it took a few seasons, Newton’s taken his on-field heroics to Charlotte, North Carolina, where earlier this month he gave the Carolina Panthers a chance at winning Super Bowl 50.
It didn’t end well for Newton and the Panthers. They lost to the Denver Broncos 24-10 in a defensive struggle. Newton had a bad game with a few costly turnovers.
But it wasn’t Newton’s on-field performance that had a lot of people clutching their pearls. It was his postgame press conference, where he half-heartedly answered a few questions before walking away from the podium.
“Sulky,” “classless,” “petulant” — those were some of the words to describe Newton’s behavior.
Over the following week, both sports and national media excoriated him. How dare he dab all season and then grumble when the time came for him to answer for his shortcomings?
But are we really, as a nation, going to be upset over a professional football player refusing to eagerly take questions from the media? The last I checked, journalism was a profession that polls very poorly, down at the level of lawyers, politicians and business executives, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll.
Nonetheless, two weeks later we’re still talking about it. Newton has since made no apologies, going so far as to say, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
Based on the backlash aimed at Newton, one would surmise that, win or lose, professional athletes must stand to account before the media.
That seems like a high standard, given it is hardly a standard for the 2016 presidential field, despite candidates’ thirst for media attention.
The two party front-runners, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, have hardly gone out of their way to play nice with news media.
Regularly, Trump will taunt members of the media covering his rallies during the rally. In Biloxi last month, he managed to gin up the bulk of the 13,000 near-capacity crowd at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to boo a lone CNN cameraman for not panning the crowd to show what a big draw Trump was.
He’s gone after other members of the media regularly by name. All of this has been applauded by his supporters.
Remember Trump’s big event at Ladd-Peebles Stadium last August? Trump was a no-show for his post-event news conference.
As for Clinton, she hasn’t been as aggressive in taking on the media. But she has attempted to micromanage the media over the years, and sadly a lot of reporters have played along. A Freedom of Information Act request in 2009 revealed Clinton staffers wanted specific language describing a Clinton policy speech as “muscular” used in a story written by The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder or he would be denied access.
On the campaign trail, unlike a lot of the other candidates Clinton does not make herself available to the media in news conference-type forums. Her media availability has mostly consisted of one-on-one interviews with local and national media in the heat of the race for the nomination.
It’s not just Trump and Hillary. The other candidates have been hostile toward the media, especially on the Republican side. Sometimes it’s justified, as was the case with arguably the breakout moment for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) back in October during a GOP debate moderated by CNBC.
“Let me say something at the outset,” Cruz said. “The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.”
Acting like members of the press are delicate flowers we must revere is nonsense, whether in politics or sports. Certainly in an ideal world, a high-profile person — be it an NFL quarterback seeking to get another high-dollar sponsorship deal selling Greek yogurt or someone wanting to be the leader of the free world — would make themselves available to reporters writing for print newspapers.
It is as if post-event press conferences are the be-all and end-all of journalism. We wouldn’t want the five people relying on Associated Press stories in their morning local newspapers to go without knowing the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl or that Donald Trump is leading the Republican field of presidential candidates, right?
If you compare apples to apples, there’s a clear double standard for professional athletes and politicians.
Do you still think it is an international incident Cam Newton walked out of a press conference after the Super Bowl and did not give the media masters of the universe their proper allotment of time?
Please spare me your misguided righteous indignation.