I believe there’s a moment in almost everyone’s life when they commit an act of cowardice. No one may notice it, but it lives within you forever. I know it has for me. And I’m ashamed of myself every time I think of it. That’s why I have sympathy for Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, who seemed to show fear in not diving for his fumbled pass attempt late in Super Bowl 50.
I wonder if that is why he was so sullen and silent in the post-game media session. Perhaps he was waiting for someone to ask him about that moment for which he had no answer and may have had to lie. He could have said, “I thought it was an incomplete pass, not a fumble.” Yes, he could have said that.
That moment there on the football field late in the fourth quarter was so out of character for Newton’s cocky demeanor that it would be doubly humiliating to confront reporters after the game. Many of those reporters, he knew, probably did not like him and wished him the worst. Some of that dislike was provoked by the quarterback’s seemingly sky-high views of himself. Some of it was racist. Reporters, no different than American society, are at odds with blacks who show-boat while accepting in their white counterparts.
Like Newton’s moment of fear, mine occurred on a football field when I was 18. The fear came upon me so suddenly that I was unprepared. I can not explain why it happened. It just did. No one ever mentiioned the incident to me. Maybe no one saw it for what it was. So it has gone as a dirty little secret all these years.
The difference for Newton of course was quite different.
NFL players are not to show fear. It is an unwritten rule of the game. They must appear above all towers of physical and emotion strength. It is the image the NFL likes. To appear human is the antithesis of everything NFL.
And of course while only a few hundred witnessed my dreary moment in a long-forgotten high school game, millions saw Newton’s so-called disgrace on television. And the CBS analyst covering the game, Phil Simms, mentioned it for what it was to most of us viewers: Newton was afraid to risk his body for what could have been a game changing moment.
If you really look at Newton’s demeanor in the post-game interview, it was not that of a fierce warrior crushed by defeat on his sport’s biggest stage. What I saw was a little boy, pulling a hoody around his torment and sinking into the blackness of a reality that may scar him a long time.
It is a hard thing to get over, that moment, when the doubts that long have existed in you seem to prove utterly true. Will we ever see again the hot-dogging, fun-loving Cam Newton so visible before Super Bowl 50?