Our “Local Boy Does Good ,” Ben Frederickson, or “BenFred” as he is known on Facebook, had an interesting column on the digital St. Louis Post Dispatch, where he is a regular sports columnist (http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/ben-frederickson/benfred-cam-newton-wasn-t-the-only-postgame-loser/article_b6761488-ff71-57ef-9c18-236af86169a5.html) . Ben took on the media and its role in Cam Newton’s bad behavior in his post-Super Bowl press conference – or as they say in the trade (which is absolutely ridiculous), his “presser.”
Some background: Ben was a weekly columnist at the Democrat during his senior year in high school during the football season. A member of the Tiger team, Ben gave us a weekly inside “scoop” behind the scenes. I wrote a letter to the editor applauding Ben’s allowing his readers to look at a football team from a different perspective (https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7713731577478560530#editor/target=post;postID=1743958885873220774).
Fast forward to Ben’s article this past week, where he questions whether Cam Newton’s behavior could have been a result of an over-eager press corps, who asked silly questions and made silly statements rather than taking the time to pose insightful questions to get Newton’s perspective. I thought that was something to think about, because my first reaction to Newton’s churlishness was to roll my eyes and say, “For this he gets paid $103 million.”
Assuming that not everyone is tuned in to the NFL, Cam Newton, the man with the $103 million smile, is the Carolina Panthers’ star quarterback. The Panthers ended the season 15-1, losing only the last game of the season, and Cam Newton was a big reason for their success. A college stand-out at Auburn, he won the Heisman Trophy and was the first overall draft pick in 2011. He set several records during his first professional season and was named the Rookie of the Year; this year, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. In the Super Bowl, the Panthers lost in spectacular fashion to the Denver Broncos, and Cam Newton’s bad performance was a significant part of the loss.
Newton showed up for the press conference wearing a hoodie, a stark contrast to the Versace gold and zebra-striped pants he had worn when he arrived in San Francisco, and gave one- or two-word answers to reporters’ questions. Then, after just a few minutes, he inexplicably got up and left.
I kept thinking about Ben’s take on the incident. While I agree with most of what he says, I want to take the analysis a little bit further. They are doing their jobs, or at least their jobs as they see them. They asked questions of a 26-year-old multi-millionaire, whose hardest job at the time was to answer them politely and then go on his way and brood. The way I see it is this: the media was trying to sate the appetites of an indiscriminate public who insists on looking at this game as the most important thing in the universe. The press was giving the public what it demands: more, more, and more sports hyperbole.
In this country, we have 24-hour sports networks – not channels, but networks – and networks dedicated to football, golf, basketball, and baseball. We also have a football game – a game – that the talking heads blather about for two or three weeks before it happens, all day the day that it happens, and for who knows how many days after it happens. Ben may “turn the scalpel inward” on the press, but I want to also turn the scalpel on the public, who single-mindedly watches every minute of it regardless of what is being said.
Oh, I reluctantly accept that football is not “just a game.” It’s big business. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who couldn’t quite understand that dragging a woman into an elevator by her hair is not acceptable, has led the NFL to great wealth; in 2014, the NFL had profits of over $1 billion. That’s “Billion” with a “B” (http://money.cnn.com/2015/01/20/news/companies/nfl-profits/). But if we look at football, including the media that covers it, as a business, we have to view the public as consumers. Perhaps when the football consumers demand more than just rhetoric and hyperbole for their money — from the media, from the exorbitantly paid stars — they will get it.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.