Even before he became an NFL player in 2011, Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way. In many of his pre-draft scouting reports, Newton was taken to task for what some felt was an overall attitude of entitlement. That's unusual, because such reports generally focus on what players do on the field unless there are clear red flags. Despite those concerns, the Panthers took him with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and Newton went on to set several rookie records in one of the more impressive first-year performances by any NFL quarterback.
That season got him to the Pro Bowl, and according to a report by CBS' Pete Prisco, there were some players on the AFC side who wished Newton has stayed home. As Prisco writes, it's highly unusual for a quarterback to feel a constant pass rush in a Pro Bowl game -- everybody understand that it's an exhibition, and the focus is on making sure nobody gets hurt. But many AFC defenders, including Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, went out of their way to give Newton some serious hazing in the pocket.
And as Prisco now reveals, the source of that pressure was the fact that the AFC players were seriously underwhelmed with Newton's demeanor.
"He was a total [expletive]," one AFC player told Prisco. "Who did he think he was? He acted like the big [expletive]. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that."
Various players told Prisco that Newton refused one player's request for an autograph and picture for his children at a pre-game function, and that at one point, Newton somehow "dissed" Ray Lewis. Lewis denied that happened, but others told Prisco that it did.
This just in: "Dissing" Ray Lewis is a very bad idea for any offensive player.
"That's the godfather there," one player told Prisco. "Can you believe he did that?"
One NFC player who was on the field with Newton said that he was very surprised at the level of heat the opposition was bringing.
"He's a young guy and learning, but he better change," the player said. "They started rushing him. We were like, 'what are they doing? This is the Pro Bowl.' They didn't attempt that with the other guys. They went after him. He better learn soon. You don't want to go out there and get hurt at the Pro Bowl."
And as Prisco points out, this wasn't a move to just put a talented rookie in his place. When Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals got reps with the AFC squad, the NFC defenders didn't amp up their games. This was, for whatever reason, a Newton-based issue.
"It didn't matter who it was, he didn't care about anybody but himself." one player said of Newton.
Having talked with Newton a couple of times, and wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt because I believe that African-American quarterbacks still have to climb more mountains when it comes to perception, I've come away thinking that he's very structured in what he says and does. I also got the impression that he expects people to establish negative preconceptions before they even meet him. That probably gives him an aloofness that doesn't work well in the NFL community, and it's certainly clear that if he wants to form any bonds in his pro career, he will need to re-assess the ways in which he relates to people.
Then again, some quarterbacks just set people off. You get to a Super Bowl or two, or throw for 50,000 yards in your career, and you can have a few personality quirks.
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