Cam Newton and a Prospect's Brutal Character Evaluation: Fair Practice or Cheap?

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2011 question... question...Kent Horner/Getty Images

As you may have heard, Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki recently wrote the following character assassination about Auburn standout, Cam Newton, in his draft guide:

“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 that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example.  Immature and has had issues with authority.  Not dependable.”

I mean, ouch. Very ouch, baby. I’ll go out on a limb and say Nawrocki wouldn’t draft Newton if he were a GM.

(I’ll also quietly go out on a different limb and wonder if Nawrocki didn’t go the extra vitriolic mile with the nation’s favorite prospect to draw a little extra PR around his draft guide. Just sayin’: no such thing as bad PR.)

Doug Farrar of Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner wrote a column in response. His counterpoint was more or less: Nawrocki is a great talent evaluator, but where is the line of decency? Sure, we need to pick apart a guy’s footwork, football IQ and field vision, but “has a fake smile” and “me-first makeup?” That’s cutting close to major arteries. Why go there? Take it easy. The kid hasn’t turned 22 yet.

On some level, Farrar is right. It’s a brutal evaluation. It slices straight to the core: Newton’s character. And it's hard not to sense a certain breathless redundancy in Nawrocki's language that makes you raise the halting, "slow down, cowboy" hand, no matter how much you dislike Newton.

But no one really knows. That's why I love calling this coming month Apridiculous; everyone's an expert on seeing the future all of a sudden. (Please, manage my stock portfolio too)

So let's step back instead.

Here are headlines on the same blog published around when Farrar wrote his response to Nawrocki:

Report: Dez Bryant sued after not paying for his jewelry

Police report accuses Aqib Talib of pistol-whipping, shooting at a guy

Now the NFL wants HGH blood testing? Uh-oh

Mind you, these stories are not from the previous weeks or months; we’re talking within 24 hours. Another fun fact: Bryant and Talib were both first-round draft picks.

Nawrocki is (hopefully) not implying that Newton will be a thief, assassin or drug abuser; but though the exercise can have painful conclusions, character evaluations are necessary in today’s NFL. (I'm still flabbergasted that Marvin Harrison was a stone-cold thug.)

No one invests millions of dollars hiring one of us, like the NFL does for prospects, but personality vetting isn’t a unique practice either. Any security clearance in the military requires a personal report far thicker and more complex than anything NFL scouts could produce. Hiring managers usually try to project whether you’re me-first or team-first based on discussions with former co-workers and asking tough questions. Google and most technology companies test your intelligence and logic during interviews; not being hired usually means, frankly, you’re not “smart enough.” And, lastly, I can’t even imagine the demeaning examinations required for a job in professional pornography.

The difference is that Newton’s evaluations are public—a fair point. But what isn’t public in the NFL? You're about to work in front of millions of people every Sunday. Get used to it. You chose this work and people's opinions today are playful hazing for what’s to come tomorrow.

Pretend and fast-forward: Buffalo selects Newton and now the Bills have just suffered a brutal shellacking to drop to 1-7 midway through the 2011 season. Newton steps to the podium to take questions after the game…

In the quote-fetished echo chambers of today’s media, we know there are exactly two possible outcomes: 1) Newton, with that million dollar smile, feeds the Press Machine a slew of benign, non-committal sound bites and his words appear in the fourth paragraph of everyone’s write-up or 2) he generates a headline. Even if he suggests “the running game wasn’t quite there today”—even if it really wasn’t—we know that writers will imply he’s taking a shot at the backfield, the O-line, the coaching and crank up the old “Take Responsibility, Son!” column.

And then you’ll have a media storm. And the locker room will be polluted. And players and coaches will respond and be angry and annoyed. And TV ratings will tumble because no one wants to watch an apathetic football team. And the drama will be reinforced by camera shots of empty stands. And people will start talking about what quarterbacks are available in the 2012 draft.

And that’s without the police involved—just with a sloppy post-game tongue. (Of course, who isn’t razor sharp in front of a pack of reporters after taking a beating for three hours on national television?)  

NFL players can’t possess loose strands of narcissism because the Press Machine’s cat claws will—always—catch and tear them to shreds. Nawrocki may have exacted the harsh judgment to sell a few more copies of the draft guide, but more importantly, you know what it tees up? The “I told you so” column. Every writer’s favorite.

So what can Newton do to defend himself? What should he do when Nawrocki’s take gets back to him? 

Suck it up and make every team that passes on him pay. Knock the lights off the scoreboard, because revenge is the only tool players really have.

Then the Press Machine will slobber all over the “disrespected” angle—as if they weren’t responsible for fostering it—and we’ll forget about the laptops he stole when he was a teenager or his canned speech during the NFL combine. If he plays like he’s supposed to and keeps a good head on his shoulders, none of Nawrocki’s words will mean more than the hot air that created them in the first place.

Maybe that's why they play the game...

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