He’s won the NFL MVP and a Heisman Trophy, came as close as possible to winning championships in the NCAA and NFL, and was the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
While his career has been mired in controversy and curiosity, Cam Newton is among the NFL’s most popular and talented players.
Given his credentials and accolades he has racked up, it’s hard to argue that he is one of the league’s best and brightest stars.
What has come into question lately, however, is the way referees officiate him and his playing style. On multiple occasions, Newton has voiced concerns about his safety and the discrepancy between the Heisman winner and other quarterbacks. Two weeks ago, Newton voiced his concerns, saying that the lack of protection and calls he gets from officials are “taking the fun out of the game for [me].”
Netwon is hardly the first rushing quarterback to have success in the NFL. Steve Young, Michael Vick, Marcus Mariota, and all others in between, rushing QBs, while uncommon, have found niche success in the league.
In fact, no QB has more rushing TD’s in their career than Cam Newton, as he has become the preeminent dual-threat passer in NFL history.
Logic would follow that with the recent rule changes to protect offensive players (QBs in particular), a rushing quarterback would be of particular concern, and in a safeguard among officials in today’s NFL.
When delving into the data, it is clear that there was a time when Newton was receiving these types of calls.
But somewhere along the line, the flags stopped flying.
After his MVP campaign a year ago, Newton’s play, attitude, and press conferences are under the most powerful microscope in the league—by a wide margin.
From 2011-2014, Newton received 21 roughing-the-passer penalties in his favor. The league average over those four seasons is 12. It’s a staggering difference, but one that did not continue into the present.
The most astonishing statistic, however, is that throughout his entire 2015 season (and thus far in 2016), Newton did not receive a single similar penalty in his favor. This points to a changing strategy in the officiating of Newton.
“I don’t even feel safe,” Netwon said in a press conference, after taking a gruesome hit to the knee against Arizona several weeks ago.
This leaves the onlooker with the perplexing question of how, exactly, Newton—a six-foot-five, 250-pound gladiator—is left speechless about the quality of officiating he is receiving. It’s a question Newton plans to discuss with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about in the coming weeks.
Perhaps the most harrowing part of the whole ordeal is that the NFL office has twice said that their officials missed calls on Newton. The issues of race, attitude, and bias have all come into question with the NFL here. (Recall that Newton was heavily scrutinized in his postgame presser after the Super Bowl last season.)
A violent concussion left Newton out for a game this season, albeit on a legal hit. One can only ask, after seeing Newton light up the field for the last five years: Is it simply not a sustainable play style? Or are the officials and the NFL to blame for officiating him differently than other QBs?
One thing is clear: Newton and his Panthers teammates and coaches have had enough, and demand change. Kudos to them.