Salon Headline Claims Cam Newton Endured 'Racist Vitriol' After Super Bowl — With No Evidence

February 9th, 2016 2:54 PM

The headline at Nathaniel Friedman's Monday column at is unmistakably clear: "Racist vitriol pours down on Cam Newton: Single-minded haters rush to judgment after a rough Super Bowl." Naturally, I went there expecting a long series of hateful tweets, social media references or other comments.

Friedman's column content, however, has no reference to "racism" at all — or to "racists," or even to "race." Perhaps the far-left website expected the writer to cover that topic, and then he didn't. Or perhaps the money-bleeding operation just wanted to put a clickbait headline out there to garner traffic. Regardless of how or why it happened, the headline's presence is irresponsible, as Friedman didn't even look at the criticism of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's relatively poor play and post-game conduct through a racial prism at all.

Friedman did, however, give Newton more of a pass than he deserved, and directly failed to acknowledge that, like it or not, to paraphrase Spiderman, "With great money, fame and visibility come great responsibility" (bolds are mine):

Racist vitriol pours down on Cam Newton: Single-minded haters rush to judgment after a rough Super Bowl
It's possible to say he didn't act wisely or like a pro with the media without a bigger moral judgment. But...

Heading into Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton was the story. Today, Cam Newton is still the story. The Panthers quarterback came in hot, emboldened and eager to take on the burden of transforming his sport. In last night’s game, Newton ran smack-dab into a ferocious Denver Broncos defense and never really got on track. Cam Newton lost. And he certainly didn’t make things any easier for himself.

It’s been obvious all along that a Panthers loss would unleash a wave of pent-up vitriol. Even if Newton had played exceptionally, his critics would have found some leverage. He could have been his usual unimpeachable self on the field and some still would have found ample reason to blame the team’s performance on dabbing or brightly colored pants.

Except Cam Newton didn’t just lose a football game. His play was thoroughly unremarkable, even dismal at times. The Panthers were stifled by Denver and failed to respond or adapt accordingly. Newton made only a handful of big plays and spent most of the game running for his life behind the line of scrimmage. His body language was dismal. He danced out of the way of a late-game fumble that could’ve given the Panthers a shot at a comeback. And when it came time to talk to the media, Newton was brusque and dismissive before walking off abruptly when he overheard Bronco Chris Harris ask, “Can [Cam Newton] throw the football?”

Because Cam Newton is Cam Newton, today’s conversation has been utterly devoid of any nuance or complexity. Nobody’s leaping to his defense as a football player, perhaps because that one play looked so bad and said so much about his mind-set by the end of the game. Instead, this press conference has become as polarizing as the man himself. On one side, you’ve got takedowns casting Newton as a petulant child and a failed role model. On the other, there are Cam apologists who even before the backlash took shape, were minimizing the incident. Talking to the media is trivial, Newton was overcome with emotion, and really, who wouldn’t sulk on the what will probably be the single worst day of his football life?

The difference between today and a week ago, though, is that this time around, there are good reasons to find fault with Cam Newton. There’s also still cause to be protective of him, as some seize on the opportunity to make an example of an athlete who did so much to challenge football’s orthodoxy. Anyone interested in the truth of the matter must acknowledge a series of contradictions: It’s possible to find fault with Cam Newton’s behavior without assigning it any moral value. It’s possible to think (wish, even) that he could have handled himself better while fully acknowledging that Newton knew a media firestorm lay ahead of him. And we can talk about what we’ve learned about Cam Newton as an athlete without indicting him as a human being.

... What Cam Newton chose to do tells us nothing about his character or his influence on the youth of America. We can certainly conclude, though, that the 26-year-old does not deal well with losing, to the point of disconsolation. He doesn’t yet have the composure that we expect—and to be fair, require—of someone in his position. This doesn’t make him a terrible person or a tarnished hero. Cam Newton has simply reminded us that human beings are complicated and that our tendency to paint them with a broad brush often obscures the truth of a situation.

... Cam Newton is no fool. He knew that, in the wake of defeat, his detractors would come out in full force. There was simply no way that he would get a fair shake from certain members of the assembled media, or sports talk radio, or Twitter. Even if he had come out and been the same charming, self-possessed Cam Newton we saw in his pre-game interview, there still would have been something: A reporter out to spark controversy, some small detail of speech to fixate on, or maybe even accusations that Newton was too graceful in defeat. It’s impossible to say.

What we got instead, though, was the Panthers QB not even deigning to go through the motions.

... It’s not a question of how you feel about Cam Newton but of whether, at a crucial moment in sports and culture, we’re capable of anything other than wholly simplistic thinking.

Sadly, Newton did demonstrate poor character in his postgame press conference (video here) — from his attire, to his general demeanor, to his failure to congratulate his opponents on their victory, and to his failure to directly acknowledge that he (not "we") played poorly.

As to Newton's influence on America's youth and the nation's culture, he has it, again whether he likes it or not. Based on these tweets from those interviewing him yesterday, he not only doesn't get it, he's digging in deeper:


The first statement above is especially offensive, as Newton has tagged Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and every other athlete who has been gracious in defeat, from the most accomplished to the most mediocre, a loser.

It's good that Friedman stayed away from race in discussing Newton's conduct. It's reprehensible that headlined his column as it did, because Newton's conduct isn't about race at all (though Newton himself tried to make it so before the Super Bowl). It's about (having) class.

Cross-posted at