Cam Newton is a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL MVP, but if his career keeps going the way it is, he’ll be most remembered as The Last Man the NFL Didn’t Have to Care About.
Newton again is writhing about in the middle of another mess created by the NFL’s concussion protocol, which seems to exist only in theory. It obviously doesn’t apply to Newton, who is far too good and far too compliant to be taken out of a game unless he can’t even stand, and even then … they‘ll figure something out.
On that play, Newton takes a direct helmet-to-helmet hit, and he is clearly dazed by it even before he tries to run off the field and collapses to his knees. By any reading of the NFL’s rules when it comes to incidents like that, Newton should have been pulled from the action and evaluated for a concussion, but he wasn’t.
Newton is hardly the only player whose apparent head injuries are treated this way, especially in the playoffs. But there is no other player whose career is defined by this issue to the extent Newton’s is. If you look at the way Newton has been treated over the years by game officials, opponents, medical personnel, and the Carolina Panthers, it is clear that he is not considered to be “destructible” in the same way other players are, and the fact that he has missed just three starts in his career is evidence that all these people may be sort of correct about that.
Newton used to complain about this. So did his mom and dad. Even Roger Goodell admitted officials screwed up when the Denver Broncos were allowed to tee off on him without consequence in the 2016 season opener.
But Newton himself quickly gave up, as if he read the tea leaves and figured out before anybody else did that nobody wanted to hear him complaining.
“I’m worried about winning. That’s it. Winning. Winning football games,” Newton said, via NFL.com. “That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to worry about retirement plans. I’m not here to worry about pensions. I’m not here to worry about workers comp. I’m here to win football games. Simple and plain. This is a contact sport. This is a physical sport. I play the game for the right reasons to whatever coach asks me to do, I’m gonna do it, to win football games.”
He’s sucking it up, in other words.
It would be hard to blame Newton at this point for feeling like he was put on earth to be used up by a football machine that will pay him richly to throw touchdown passes, pick himself up off the turf, and keep his mouth shut — which isn’t the worst deal in the world, after all. He suffers from the same affliction as Lebron James or Wilt Chamberlain. Newton is so strong and so tough that feeling sorry for him feels like pitying the cheetah that couldn’t run down the gazelle.
He’ll be fine.
Except he won’t be. Or at least he might not be.
Twenty years ago, he’s Brett Favre. When Troy Aikman got all those concussions everybody thought it was a big joke. But it just so happens that Cam Newton’s career has come along during the time football was flailing wildly trying to figure out how to save itself.
As time moves forward, and the sport resolves these issues in whatever way it winds up resolving them, the memories of what happened to Julian Edelman in the Super Bowl last year or Tom Savage in Week 1 this year will absorb into the broth that simmered during these times.
But 20 years from now it will be impossible to remember this era or Cam Newton’s career without remembering these images of him getting crunched right in the head, over and over and over again. He is the player whose experience on the field most dramatically demonstrates the problems with the NFL’s concussion protocol (mainly that no such thing exists), and he’s had enough of them now there is no way to write it off.
The NFL and the Panthers will simply have to start protecting Cam Newton. And if they’ll take out the indestructible MVP who doesn’t even complain about the hits anymore, well, that means they’ll take out anybody.