Shooting the messenger is what fans do best. Part of considering yourself a 'die hard', and bleeding team colors involves forming Hadrian's wall by linking arms to block any incoming slander, especially when a fan-favorite comes under threat from the outside. Fans can detest Cam's first down celebrations, or be frustrated when he does his 'Superman' when the Panthers are down by twenty, but nobody on the outside should say it. Yesterday Pete Prisco of CBS wrote a scathing article about Cam Newton, in which according to sources the AFC intentionally set out to make an example of Newton at the 2012 Pro Bowl, largely due to his attitude in the week leading up to the event.
I don't pretend to understand what drives an editor to let a story from ten months ago run, but I do understand that this is an unusually slow news week in the NFL. The bastion for outlets was to have Tim Tebow start against the Jacksonville Jaguars, simultaneously causing the Tebow media storm, and allowing for a slew of 'college legend returning to North Florida' stories. Rex Ryan ruined that story line, so outlets are needing things to run.
It's easy to slam Prisco, and if you follow me on Twitter I took umbrage to some statements I perceived as inconsistencies in tone. I'm not sure how Newton could have been acting like he was "big s---", while also behaving aloof. These terms aren't mutually exclusive, but it's easier to see Newton as a player misunderstood, rather than intentionally seeing himself as better.
The football world see the Under Armor ads, the Superman celebrations, the bravado, and expect Cam to be as gregarious off the field as he appears on Sunday. This isn't really the truth. Fiercely private, it's rare to see Cam Newton out and about in Charlotte, even though he lives uptown in the easiest condo to spot. The Panthers' quarterback is fiercely protective about his image, and his brand -- which isn't wholly a bad thing.
Lewis denied that he was dissed [by Newton] when asked through Ravens PR man Kevin Byrne, but other players confirmed that it happened.
When a player has as much success as quickly as Cam Newton has, it naturally garners attention -- and not all of it will be positive. There are certain realities behind Newton's illustrious rookie season that can't be ignored; he was fantastic, he broke rookie records, but to be named to the Pro Bowl ahead of Matthew Stafford did a disservice to a Lions' quarterback who threw for over 5,000 yards, and 41 touchdowns. There will be a natural perception that his achievements are overblown, and giving him an accolade like the Pro Bowl didn't dissuade it.
What really happened in Hawaii? We have myriad unnamed players willing to take shots, and Ray Lewis denying the report. Was Cam Newton the intensely self-centered egotist, or simply a 22-year old getting too much praise, too quickly, and not being sociable enough?
according to multiple co-workers with the Panthers, players and front office alike, he's made a conscious effort to present a different image this season, even as coaches try to press him into a leadership role that he may not be ready for.
As the former Panthers' beat-writer says, Newton doesn't need defending, nor does Pete Prisco deserve lampooning, but Cam is low-hanging fruit in a slow news week. It's not difficult to find someone willing to remain anonymous in exchange for taking shots at a player they think is getting too much hype.
Did AFC players try a little harder to embarrass Cam Newton? I think so. We all noticed in CSR's open thread during the game that the AFC were looking to make an example out of him, but it's far more likely this was due to a desire for a "welcome to the big leagues" moment, rather than trying to attack him because he dared to 'diss' Ray Lewis.