Did you see Cam Newton’s post Super Bowl 50 media interview? After the Carolina Panthers lost the game, his required post game questioning by the media became fodder for online debate. Newton came out wearing a hoodie pulled down over his face, gave short nonresponsive answers to the media and then abruptly left the stage after about three minutes. Most people that I have talked to have some opinion about his performance. Most comments I’ve heard have been negative.
Now in my opinion, in the big scheme of things a sports star’s postgame interview is such a trivial matter that it’s almost not worth discussing. However, I think there is a lesson for us all in this event.
So to be very clear – although this article discusses Cam Newton, it’s really about you and I.
My Immediate Reaction
True confession: I live in Denver and I’ve been a Broncos fan for many years. I obviously watched the game and had invested some emotional energy into wanting the Broncos to win. I listened to the pundits primarily predict a win by the Panthers. I heard how the Broncos would not be able to stop the NFL MVP Newton.
I continuously saw video of the young Panthers quarterback celebrating and “dabbing” and wearing Superman shirts. On the one hand, it’s all entertaining and I love Newton’s youthful exuberance. On the other hand, I did want to see him lose!
So when the Broncos handily defeated the Panthers and kept Cam Newton in check, I must admit that a part of me wanted to hear a bit more humbleness from him after the game. I saw the interview and judged him negatively. My immediate thoughts were “immature”, “poor sport”, “can’t handle his emotions” and so on.
The Commentators Comment
Then I started hearing all of the media debate about the event. Quickly I began to realize this was becoming blown up to be something bigger than it really was. Most broadcast and social media spokespeople called Cam to task for not acting more mature. A few came to his defense.
Some pointed out that it’s unrealistic to expect our sports stars to have to talk to the media after suffering such defeats. Others pointed out that they are paid a lot of money and it’s a time-honored tradition that they come out and “face up” publicly to the situation. Others analyzed the video and suggested that Newton left the podium because he could hear a Bronco player at a nearby podium explaining how his team had stopped Carolina. Still others pointed out how Newton’s teammates handled it much better.
A day or two later, Newton showed no remorse for his postgame actions and acknowledged he was a sore loser feeling okay with that label – then he quoted Vince Lombardi that “if you show me a good loser I’ll show you a loser”. A new round of media reactions were generated.
Eventually I began to reflect on this. Wasn’t there another way to look at this entire situation?
Our Judgments Are about Us, Not the Other Person
“Judge not, least you be judged” says an old quote from the Bible. I’ve come to believe that what that statement is saying is that when we judge something, our judgment says more about ourselves and our beliefs than about the thing or person that we believe we are judging.
We are so used to having opinions about things, that it is hard for us to step back and see that our opinions are simply mirrors into our belief systems. We think situations “should” go a certain way and when they don’t we judge it negatively. We think people “should” act in a certain way and when they don’t we judge it negatively. Yet, the way we think the world “should” be is simply some ingrained belief that we have come to accept as true. Sometimes it sits there so invisibly that we forget how it guides us through life. Such judgments are an opportunity for self exploration.
In the case of Cam Newton, most of us held some belief about how he was “supposed to act”. He should’ve come out and acted humble. He should’ve acknowledged more how his team was defeated. He should’ve been more responsive to the media questions. He should’ve spent more time with the media. He should not have had his hoodie over his face. Maybe. But what is critical here to remember is that all of these “shoulds” are really about you and I. They are simply statements about what we believe to be true.
The Heart of Compassion
The Golden Rule says “do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” In other words, treat others as you would like them to treat you. How would you like to be treated if you were in Cam Newton’s shoes?
If you were a young person in your mid-20s who had been thrust into a major spotlight, had received praise and accolades, had high expectations for your performance in an overly hyped sports event and then your performance and the outcome had not lived up to your expectations, what would be your emotions? If your feelings had led you to react in the way that he did, how would you want to be perceived and treated now?
Would you not want the world to show you a bit of compassion? Maybe that’s what we’re called to do in this moment. I have come to realize that most of the situations out there in the world that I judge negatively are opportunities for me to expand my heart.
I may not agree with how Newton acted but that doesn’t stop me from caring for him as a fellow human being. I may still be glad that his team lost, yet I can put myself mentally and emotionally in his shoes such that I can understand his pain.
Cam Newton is a young and talented football player. I believe he will bounce back and do well in the years to come. He is fun to watch and I want the best for him. One of those things that I want is that I hope that this experience has served him. I hope he learns from it and that in some way he grows positively through the experience. Like it or not, we hold our sports stars up to major scrutiny and idolization. For our youth, they are role models. I regret that his actions may not have modeled the highest and best response in such a situation to his impressionable fans. I hope in time he comes to see that. In the meantime, I will recognize that this is just a judgment I am holding.
The Bigger Picture
This was just one sports event and one postgame interview. In our fast-paced media world, this event will be old news very quickly. But is there something we can take from this that we can each use in future situations? I hope so.
Each day we encounter people and situations that we judge negatively. Doing so tends to separate us from them. Sometimes we forget their humanity. Sometimes we lose touch with our hearts.
What kind of world do you want to live in? Do you want to live in a world where we attack others for not acting in the way we think they should? Yes, we can disagree on the best course of action in a given situation. Yes, we can ultimately agree to disagree on certain things. But I would rather live in a world where such disagreements never cause us to lose sight of the fact that our fellow human beings are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. I would rather live in a world where we treat others in the same manner as we would like to be treated.
Whether it’s sports, our personal life, our work, the media world or politics, we are continuously peppered with opportunities to judge others. I invite you to be open to what your judgments say about yourself and to be open to exploring new ways of caring about your fellow spiritual travelers. I am inviting myself to do the same. May we create together that higher possibility for the world we share.