Scott Fowler

Panthers’ Cam Newton fortunate only reputation was injured in camp fight

C’mon, Cam.

You really messed up Monday.

And you’re fortunate that only your reputation got hurt.

Cam Newton got in a fight with Josh Norman at the Carolina Panthers training camp Monday after Norman had made a sliding interception of Newton’s pass and then got up and started running toward the quarterback, trying to score.

Newton took exception to that and tried to get in Norman’s way, which resulted in Norman stiff-arming Newton, which resulted in Newton grabbing Norman aggressively and getting in the cornerback’s face. Then came Norman knocking off Newton’s helmet, along with more shouting and a full-on wrestling match.

Suddenly, the Panthers’ franchise quarterback and their best defensive back had taken each other to the ground, scuffling some more before being separated.

It was a jolting few seconds. It all happened 15 feet in front of me.

And as it unfolded, I kept thinking, “What in God’s name is Cam doing?”

I understand the “heat of the moment” defense. I also understand that Norman and Newton have been jawing at each other for much of training camp and that Norman can be an annoying player. He has confidence oozing from every pore, and every time he intercepts anybody, he showboats.

But Cam has to be the bigger man there – not just physically, but figuratively.

So he got intercepted in practice by Norman? So what?

Cam has to be smarter. He has to be a better leader. You can’t have your $103.8-million franchise quarterback at the bottom of a scrum, still yelling angrily at Norman and one false step by a well-meaning, 320-pound offensive lineman from getting a knee torn up.

Newton should have gotten out of the way in the first place. He should have let Norman have his moment, no matter how much that tweaked his pride, and moved on.

You think Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning is going to end up at the bottom of a pile of a dozen teammates, endangering all the Panthers are working for this season?

Coach Ron Rivera tried to put a positive spin on it all.

“Hey, he stood up for himself,” Rivera said of Newton. “The other guy stood up for himself. I know it’s the quarterback, but we treat everybody the same.”

Well, not really. Newton wears a red “don’t-hit-me” jersey during practices for a reason. Norman never should have stiff-armed Newton on the interception return, but Newton shouldn’t have been trying to make that tackle, either, instigating the contact between the players.

‘That’s stupid!’

This was an uncharacteristic moment for Newton, who talks a lot of good-natured trash but is not hot-headed. Throughout his five-year career, Newton has gotten out of the way of every scuffle in training camp and often played the role of peacemaker.

It also is worth pointing out no NFL player is perfect in regard to on-field behavior. Remember, even Luke Kuechly got kicked out of a real Panthers game in 2014.

I wrote a column at the beginning of training camp praising Newton for fully living life – for going to Australia this past summer, for playing flag football, for hanging out with the masses in Charlotte at Food Truck Fridays.

But this was different. This was Newton allowing his temper to get the best of him. This was Newton forgetting all he represented for a second and just wanting to hit somebody who irritated him.

I have never seen Cam madder. Norman was furious, too. Linebacker Thomas Davis spoke for a lot of people right after the altercation when he screamed: “That’s stupid!”

‘A little training-camp tiff’

It would be nice to report what Newton and Norman said in this column about the play and its aftermath. However, Panthers officials then made their own mistake by ensuring neither player was available to be interviewed.

That means this story will end up dragging out over another 24-hour news cycle when Newton and Norman do publicly talk and make up – and that make-up session needs to happen, and soon. They are on the same team after all.

Rivera described the original play this way: “On the interception, the thing we preach to the defense is that they score. So even though I blew the whistle, Josh kept going, like he’s taught, and the offense continued to react. What happened was Cam got stiff-armed in the helmet and that’s where it escalated. I think the big thing to understand is, ‘Hey, you’re going to get stiff-armed in your helmet, you’ve just got to handle it.’ And the message to Josh is just understand what the situation was – that’s one of your teammates. Let’s be smart about that.”

Most of Newton’s and Norman’s teammates seemed to shrug off the incident after a few minutes, with center Ryan Kalil calling it “just a little training-camp tiff” and joking that he had seen Newton do “a lot more dumb things.”

Staubach once got in fight

Although NFL quarterbacks getting involved in fights are rare, it does happen. Hall of Famer Roger Staubach and Clint Longley fought during a Dallas Cowboys training camp in 1976, with Longley leaving the team for good shortly afterward. Rivera said he had seen other quarterbacks involved in fights before, reminding reporters: “Remember, I played with Jim McMahon.”

After practice, with the rest of the Panthers on one knee, first Rivera and then Newton addressed the team about the incident.

“Cam got up and talked to the guys a little bit too about it,” the coach said. “He understands his responsibility and he understands what we’re trying to do as a football team. … At the end of the day, guys, we’re all family.”

Maybe so. And I know that family issues can sometimes drive all of us half-crazy.

But that was quite a family quarrel Monday morning – one that Cam Newton should have never gotten involved in, and one he must never let happen again.

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