NFL general managers go to great lengths to probe every conceivable aspect of a player’s psyche and background, which would lead you to believe that the draft is a far more exact science than two teenagers seeking their fortunes on a Ouija board. Sometimes, it isn’t.
We cite as examples: JaMarcus Russell and his spin on the protein shake (“purple drank”); Ryan Leaf and his fully developed cranium of a two-year-old; Michael Vick’s sudden and previously unknown desire to become an entrepreneur, somewhere back in the woods in painted black sheds in Surry County, Virginia.
Which brings us to Cam Newton.
He is possibly the most dissected potential first overall draft pick we’ve ever seen, and the debate about his future is creating household names of people like Nolan Nawrocki – who until last week lived in relative Google anonymity. The debate also has prompted one of Newton’s mentors, Warren Moon, to foolishly play the race card.
My kingdom for a mute button.
The worst thing about being a member of the 24/7 media these days is finding yourself central to these nonsensical circuses. Unfortunately, the loud pie fights won’t end until Newton is on a field again.
Newton, a native of College Park, was in the relatively controlled surroundings of the state Capitol the other day when he was honored by the Georgia Legislature. While he managed to bring professional pie fighters together under one gold dome, this is what swirled around him:
Nawrocki, a draft analyst for Pro Football Weekly, issued his
scouting report on Newton and and parts of it read like an old Saturday Night Live skit, when Dan Aykroyd would turn to Jane Curtain during “Point/Counterpoint” and say: “Jane, you ignorant slut.”
Some of Nawrocki’s “negatives” on Newton: “Very disingenuous. Has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement. Makes him believe he is above the law. Does not command respect from teammates. Always will struggle to win a locker room. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness. Not punctual. Immature. Not dependable.”
Left unsaid: whether his feet stink.
Moon, a member of the Hall of Fame, responded to this criticism in an unusual way: “A lot of the criticism is unfortunate and racially based.” And the media inferno spread.
Ever witness a debate in which you wanted nothing to do with either side?
Nawrocki gets paid to critique players, so he can say and write what he likes. But remarks like Newton “has a fake smile” and is “very disingenuous,” are just silly. Nawrock admits he never has had a conversation with Newton so that’s kind of a strange leap to make. (Also, how does a quarterback engineer a 14-0 season without winning over a locker room?)
Moon’s general feelings about race and the draft are understandable. He wasn’t drafted in 1978 and began his career in Canada. But the NFL hasn’t been a whites-only quarterback league for some time. The time line stretches from Doug Williams to Josh Freeman, with Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair and dozens of others in between.
When Moon suggested no white QBs had to face this kind of pre-draft criticism, was he counting Tim Tebow?
Here’s what we know about Newton: Athletically, he has few peers at the quarterback position. He just completed arguably the single greatest season by a college player: a BCS title, an undefeated season, Heisman Trophy, 30 passing touchdowns, 20 rushing TDs in his only year as starter at an SEC school.
The debate rages on as to what he knew and when he knew it regarding his recruiting process. We know his father, Pastor Cecil “Huggy Bear” Newton, did everything but list his son on Craigslist with the words, “Available for $10,000 and fur-lined pulpit, or best offer.” But regardless of whether Cam Newton is dirty or clean, few athletes ever have faced the same pressure, adversity and scrutiny, and responded so well on the field.
If Carolina takes Newton with the first pick, it will be because of those tangibles. Eventually, we’ll learn if Newton’s perceived flaws will submarine his career. But until I see something other than touchdowns and wins, I’ll assume the rest is empty noise.
By Jeff Schultz