Cam Newton's rookie season's gone quite controversy-free (outside of handing a football to a fan anyway!), and people seem content to just let him cruise along, shattering NFL records.
Until he says stuff that could be misconstrued anyway -- during Newton's first national interview in quite some time, the Panthers quarterback said he's just trying to "get everybody on my level."
Well, kind of. What really happened is that Newton tried to point out how difficult it is to be on a losing team, since he's never been there before by making a jungle analogy, then turning it into a house analogy then accidentally saying he wanted to "get out of that house" at which point he was like "wait, I love it here!" or something.
“What happens when you take a lion out of the safari and try to take him to your place of residence and make him a house pet? ... It ain’t going to happen,” Newton said in an interview with ESPN the Magazine this week. "That's the type of person that I am. I'm that lion. The house that I’m in is somewhat of a tarnished house where losing is accepted. But I’m trying to change that, whether I'm going to have to turn that house into a safari or I'm just going to have to get out of that house.”
"I'm not trying to leave this place. I'm just trying to get everybody on my level."
So what Cam's trying to say, really, is that he wants to change the culture in Carolina. And good news -- everyone's OK with that.
"It doesn’t bother me at all," wide receiver Steve Smith told The Charlotte Observer. "I’d rather have a guy who is upset that we lost, obviously handling it the right way, than a guy who is neither way, whichever way.
"I like a guy who has the desire not to win next year, but he wants to win immediately. I think we needed more of that."
Smith's not the only member of the Panthers organization getting Newton's back, either. Head coach Ron Rivera is firmly on board with the notion that the culture in Charlotte needs to change.
"To me, the thing I like about it more than anything is it's important, it really is," Rivera said. "It's the old saying that if you didn't put your heart into it, it wouldn't hurt. He does. He puts everything into it.
"To me, there is no issue. I still struggle when I hear people talking about the stuff with that and the towel and that stuff, it doesn't make sense to me."
When Rivera refers to "the towel" he's discussing the inexplicable need for anyone covering a Panthers game to discuss the fact that Newton wears a towel on his head in between offensive series. The natural talking point is that Newton's "tuning out teammates" or "hiding his emotions" or something silly.
The idea that he might just be paying homage to the G.O.A.T.'s practice of doing the same is just too simplistic, apparently.
What's kind of interesting about this "controversy" from a social perspective, though, is the difference between the response to Newton's comments now and the response to Newton's pre-draft comments about becoming an "icon and an entertainer."
Obviously "changing the culture" and "becoming famous" aren't equal in terms of the soundbite value they hold, but the reaction to Newton's latest comments is much more tepid than the previous outcry.
And, quite simply, it's because Newton's been successful this season. And he's helping the Panthers win more than they were before he got there.
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