Many of you are looking at the title of this post and thinking you know where I’m headed. It’s been said and regurgitated over and over in the last 24 hours. The radio and social media are abuzz with talk of Mr. Newton and what is being described as his display of poor sportsmanship last night. Seems like a pretty clear-cut message to our youth. Sore losers look like jerks.
The end, right?
Well, not so fast.
After quite a bit of windshield time today, too much talk radio and much thought, I’ve decided the answer is…….likely not.
I will be the first one to admit that this morning, while sharing a teeth-brushing session with my eight-year-old son, I filled him in on the post-game celebration.
I typically leave the sports conversations to his dad but I felt a bit more vested in this discussion. As an Indiana girl, a Peyton Manning fan, and dealing with quite a bit more sentimental emotion about his potential retirement than I ever would have imagined, I took this conversation on myself.
I spoke with my son about the questions asked and how Carolina’s QB handled the post-game pressure. (My son is a football fanatic, knows the stats on most well known players and many of the lesser knowns. We’ve been able to use his obsession to execute some teachable moments in the last year. I wasn’t going to let last night’s events pass without the same fanfare.) I talked with him about Cam’s response to reporters who were asking him about the game. It was a rather quick conversation (because mornings are insane at our house) but I expressed my disappointment in Newton’s responses, or lack thereof. I shared my hope that my son would keep this in mind when he loses games in future. We can’t all be winners but it’s important to be gracious in the loss.
The end, right?
Again, not quite.
After listening to countless comments today from people I encountered in my job and multiple news reporters and radio hosts, I felt a strong urge to continue the conversation. This time with another thought in mind.
Don’t get me wrong, the gracious loser portion will still be addressed. However, (blame it on being a mother) I found myself thinking about what it must be like to be in Cam Newton’s shoes today. No doubt he wanted the Super Bowl ring as bad as Peyton Manning. I’ll admit I’m taking a bit of liberty in my assumptions but I imagine he might have already felt a bit overshadowed by the huge presence of Peyton The Great. A formidable opponent, five time MVP, former Super Bowl winner, with fans nationwide cheering him on to what would be a potential 200th win. All on the eve of his anticipated retirement announcement. A man loved by many and revered even by other former and current NFL players.
I’m guessing it would be hard to go toe-to-toe with a figure like Manning.
I think about the crushing blow that would come after incredibly high expectations of a win. Visions of victory dashed by loss and heading home without that coveted ring. Then to face reporters asking you to analyze and verbalize your loss.
I know, I know, poor little rich guy. But bear with me.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been so bowled over with emotion that you literally can’t speak? Your plans derailed by failure? Moments where your internal fury is burning so hot that giving one word responses is the best option at the time?
I’m not proud of those moments. I’d like to think I’ve grown from those experiences. I was mortified beyond all belief when the heat of the moment passed and I realized I’d made a total blazing fool of myself in front of others.
Have you done it? Can you think of the moment? Do you remember the embarrassment? Are you getting a little hot under the collar remembering how stupid you acted?
Now, imagine you were in front of 112 million of your closest friends when you chose to show some of your uglier true colors. Imagine your rival and victor was none other than the adored and beloved Peyton Manning. Do you smell what I’m cooking?
Yes, I believe that professional athletes and others have a level of responsibility to serve as role models. Yes, I believe that someone who signed a 5 year contract worth 103 million would be able to answer a few questions following a game. Yes, I believe he acted like a total jerk.
I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes today. Which brings about the end of the lesson for my son.
He will lose games and should be a gracious loser. Just as he should be a gracious winner following his victories. More importantly, he should have empathy for those who make fools of themselves in either situation. Because he will undoubtedly be in those shoes at some point to some degree.
While I aspire to be a Peyton Manning type person, all shiny and wonderful on all fronts, I find myself a bit more like Cam Newton. The pout and sulk come out more often than I like. Sometimes in public and other times behind closed doors.
What I and you and my son and the man who makes the doughnuts choose to do after those low points is another thing altogether.
I will be talking to my son about redemption. About not judging someone on one event but rather a body of work. I’ll be asking him to extend grace and mercy. Heaven knows I’ll need it from him for my own personal benefit.
We will talk about second chances. And third and fourth and fiftieth if necessary. I’m guessing this might be a good preparation for marriage. My son can be as stubborn as I am so I’m thinking my future daughter-in-law will thank me.
As for Cam Newton, I hope he will redeem himself from that lapse in judgement. I hope that years from now people will be able to talk about the blossoming maturity they saw from 2016 on. I hope that when he retires my son will get misty eyed as I do when I think about Peyton Manning.
Neither of their stories are finished. They are still being written. As are ours.
Here’s to grace and mercy and forgiveness and second chances.
Thanks to all of you who’ve given me that and so much more.