Tom Sorensen

Blame for fight at Panthers camp doesn’t belong on Josh Norman

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman talks with head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman after practice during training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Norman got into a heated scuffle with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton earlier in practice.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman talks with head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman after practice during training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Norman got into a heated scuffle with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton earlier in practice. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The defense wears white jerseys Monday, the offense black jerseys and the quarterbacks red. A red jersey means fragile, handle with care.

But it’s not as if the red jerseys are embroidered with flowers. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, 26, chose to mix it up at practice with cornerback Josh Norman, 27. Norman was entitled to mix it up right back.

When the offense does something well at practice, Newton announces it as if he’s holding a megaphone. His proclamations aren’t vicious. They’re loud and often funny, at least to those of us who don’t play defense.

The defense makes noise, too, and one of its louder members is Norman.

Norman intercepted a Newton pass at training camp Monday, hit the ground, got up and took off. Coach Ron Rivera says that when Newton approached Norman on the return Norman stopped him with a stiff arm.

I didn’t see it. But the Newton-Norman scuffle happened so quickly that six spectators could offer six distinct versions of what transpired.

After Norman reached the end zone, I saw Newton, 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, put his hands on the helmet of Norman, 6-2, 215. Norman responded by thrusting his hands upward. This freed him from Newton and dislodged Newton’s helmet.

The offense was lined up on the side of the field nearest the altercation, and soon almost all the jerseys around Norman and Newton were black. Aided, perhaps, by the onlookers who rushed to break up the scuffle, Norman and Newton went to the ground.

They were quickly separated. But the grass where they tangled was torn up long after practice ended, the only grass on that part of the field that was. As they were separated, they continued to talk.

Because the quarterback is the most important player on the field, Newton obviously can’t go MMA or WWE when the mood strikes him. He undoubtedly received a stern talking to and is unlikely to do this again.

But if he had been injured, the fault would not have been Norman’s. Maybe Norman gave Newton a stiff arm. That’s allowed. Newton put both of his large hands on Norman’s helmet. That isn’t allowed.

Did you expect Norman to quietly back down? Norman is one of Carolina’s best players. Do you want a potential shutdown corner who turns meek when confronted by a red jersey?

This offseason Norman skydived in North Carolina, snowboarded in the mountains of Colorado, surfed off the Florida coast, raced a car at Charlotte Motor Speedway and rode his horses in South Carolina and Georgia. And one of the horses has a Twitter account.

Norman is fearless in the air, in the water, on the snow, on the race track and on the football field.

He also is one of the most accessible players on the team. So when several journalists approached Newton (who would offer no comment) after practice, two of us waited for Norman.

Norman was the last player to leave. He took only a few steps before a golf cart swooped in and picked him up. Still wearing his helmet, Norman looked down and did not make eye contact as the cart drove past. The players, obviously, had been told not to talk until they had cooled down.

I did meet Norman’s father, a gracious man named Roy, who said the scuffle was nothing more than two competitive athletes getting together.

A question, sir: Josh was never shy, was he?

Roy laughs and says, “He never was.”

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