Harsh reality for Panthers: Cam Newton is not changing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton probably isn’t going to change, folks.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback probably always will be in a great mood when he’s winning. He probably always will be in a foul mood when he’s not — as has been the case the past two weeks with losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.

But that doesn’t make Newton’s behavior on Wednesday, when he abruptly walked out of his news conference as another question was being asked, right.

The roll of his eyes and pouty look upon his exit isn’t an image that team owner Jerry Richardson probably wants from the face of his organization, which is built around the “Keep Pounding” symbol of late Panthers middle linebacker and assistant coach Sam Mills.

It’s not an image any team owner should want.

It’s not an image one would expect from a 28-year-old in his seventh NFL season, particularly after three days’ time to gather his emotions and digest the loss.

Other Panthers players are unhappy with the losing streak that has Carolina (4-3) a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. But they answered questions all week and did it without rolling their eyes or walking away.

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis on Thursday had to answer questions about his wife, Kelly, who recently revealed on a local television show how Davis had been playing with a broken rib for the past three weeks.

Davis did it with a smile. And with class.

Newton might have more on his shoulders than most, but he also represents more than most.

He already lost an endorsement after making light of a football question from a female reporter from the Charlotte Observer three weeks ago. What if the team one day loses a sponsor or endorsement because of him?

And how does all this impact Newton’s legacy? Mills is the only player with a statue outside the stadium, and that had as much to do with the integrity and respect he brought the organization as for what he did on the field.

What would the statue of Newton look like? Would it be of Cam’s signature “Superman” move? Or would it have a towel over its head? And would it be rolling its eyes?

The organization is partially to blame for all this, allowing Newton to get away with this behavior for so long. From the time he walked in as the first pick of the 2011 draft, he was placed on a pedestal like no one in the organization before him.

Then he became a bigger star as the league MVP in 2015.

But even the organization has to be tired of apologizing for Newton’s behavior — or at least explaining it — as has happened twice now in three weeks.

Nobody should be surprised by Newton’s quick exit from Wednesday’s news conference. It was obvious from the get-go he wanted to be somewhere else — just as it was when he abruptly left the podium following a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

That moment after the championship game in 2016 has defined him in a way few superstars have been. It also has put him under the microscope; so when other incidents occur, it is magnified. If it weren’t for the Super Bowl exit, Wednesday’s walkout probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal.

This one seemed bigger than others because Newton didn’t speak to reporters at all last week. And that came two weeks after what he called his “extremely degrading and disrespectful” choice of words to Jourdan Rodrigue of the Observer.

At some point, Newton has to grow tired of having to apologize, as well.

As I wrote following Super Bowl 50, if you’re going to accept Newton for who he is when he’s dancing and dabbing, then you better be willing to accept him for who he is when he’s sulking.

Again, that doesn’t make it right. It just makes it the way it is, and the Panthers are the ones forced to deal with it.

To be fair, the player we see in news conferences isn’t the one teammates and friends see. They see a charismatic leader who likes to joke and have fun, but who also is willing to put in the work it takes to win.

They also are the ones who have to deal with the questions and potential distractions of Newton’s behavior. It happens at least once a year, sometimes more.

A big reason wide receiver Russell Shepard left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and came to Carolina in free agency was for the opportunity to play with Newton, not explain him.

Shepard grew up watching Newton lead Blinn College to a junior college national championship and then Auburn to a Division I title. To him, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton really was bigger than life.

Shepard has gained even more respect for Newton as he prepares to face his former team on Sunday in Florida.

“Cam has the charisma,” Shepard said. “He’s very talented physically. He has a nice smile and everything. People think he’s a joker, he plays all day, he likes the attention.

“But he prepares, man. The cat leaves the facility … about 6 or 7 o’clock, when guys are gone at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock. He prepares better than most people think he does.”

Some players don’t even see Newton’s behavior at news conferences and aren’t aware of it until it becomes a story.

“I didn’t even know nothing about that to tell you the truth,” wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “Cam being Cam every day, man. You know what I’m saying. That guy always is energetic and pushing his teammates.”

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston called it an “honor” when he got the opportunity to talk to Newton on the phone during his college recruitment process.

“That was a great thing that really, at that time, made my life,” Winston said. “Watching him as I grew up, he’s always been a guy I aspired to be like, especially with the intangibles he brings out there on that field.

“I just love him, man.”

Winston’s admiration for Newton has grown over the years as both joined the exclusive Heisman Trophy club. Winston was at Newton’s charity kickball tournament in Charlotte this summer to help his friend raise money.

“Honestly, being a kid from Alabama and watching Cam play football in that state and win a championship there, I’ve always admired him definitely as a football player and a human being,” Winston said.

Winston likes that people compare him to Newton, even though Newton’s dual-threat ability as a runner makes their games different. He sees similarities in their competitive nature.

“He’s one of the best competitors out there,” Winston said. “He hates to lose, as do I.”

Winston just doesn’t publicly show his disdain for losing the way Newton does.

Newton always has.

That he said “next question” in response to a question moments before walking out on Wednesday isn’t something new. That’s what Newton does when he doesn’t want to address something.

That probably won’t change, either, which means Newton will continue to be a story for his behavior as much for what he does on the field.

It might be time to accept that.

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