Cam Newton is a polarizing figure. It’s nothing new. National sports writer, Mike Freeman, recently described Newton as “perhaps the most divisive draft pick of all time,” claiming this began in college and seemed to gain momentum as he turned pro. Cam has become one of those individuals of whom you simply don’t find many people undecided. People tend to love or hate him. There are many reasons, ranging from race and demeanor to style and swagger, for why people are committed as critic or apologies. Either way, many already have their mind made up about Newton.
It’s exhausting to Newton, his supporters, and each day increasingly more to his haters. Despite Newton’s already impressive professional career, there remains a radical group of detractors who refuse to temper their criticism. They’ve committed to dying on that hater hill.
The hyperbolic criticism of Newton throughout his career has made me especially protective of Carolina’s brightest superstar. I frequently take up my Twitter sword in zealous defense of Newton, and many of those times I’m probably as partisan in my defense as the critics are in opposition. Admittedly, I’ve dismissed valid criticism merely because I resolved that it came from one of these dogmatic haters.
I know I’m not entirely objective. Hell, I run a fansite, which pretty much means the opposite of objectivity. My gripe, however, is that this admission of bias seems to come more from Newtonians (Cam supporters) than it does from the Newton haters. Add that these entrenched critics are often journalists and professional analysts, who should be striving for objectivity the most, and I find myself increasingly more irritated in the face of such criticism. It’s this type critic who Cam mockingly called to be fined..
There’s one hater who I find represents this group best, and the one I find myself hating most is Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar. If a fine could be levied for hit and run hate, he’d be one of the first to get it.
I started paying more attention to Kacsmar this past off-season, when he was especially critical of the Panthers long-term signing of Cam Newton. The contract was heavy because it was the latest franchise QB deal, but it was a team-friendly contract that didn’t seem particularly exorbitant.
The facts show so far that Cutler/Tannehill/Cam are more likely to keep you in near .500 purgatory, which is awful place to be.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) June 3, 2015
This tweet began an argument where I learned that, no matter what, Kacsmar thinks Newton stinks. He contended that Carolina had pulled the trigger too early. They had overpaid a guy whose success was because of the team, not because he is franchise quarterback.
We kept going back and forth over whether Cam’s individual accomplishments had undermined his belief that he could be nothing better than a mid-level NFL quarterback. He repeatedly argued that Cam’s success was because of the Panthers defense, not because of anything he had done.
The argument went on and on, covering Cam’s supporting cast, his accuracy, winning percentage, etc. Nothing really stood out in the debate that indicated Cam couldn’t be the real deal. What did stick out, however, was that Kacsmar had already decided he wasn’t.
He didn’t let up as Carolina entered the playoffs. Their success wasn’t because of Cam, or even the team, it was because and Carolina had an easy schedule in a weak year in the NFL.
Panthers finished with 2015's easiest schedule, as you should have expected. Browns had the toughest, which also makes sense.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 6, 2016
Kacsmar didn’t say much about the NFC Championship. Carson Palmer’s implosion, who Kacsmar advocated should be MVP over Newton, left the critic coincidentally very focused on the Bronco’s win over Pittsburgh instead.
Now that Carolina is entering Super Bowl 50 a favorite over the Denver Broncos, Kacsmar’s latest tweet made me curious about the genesis of Kacsmar’s disdain. How far back does it go? Was there ever a time where he wasn’t a hater? It turns out, Kacsmar was skeptical from the beginning. This skepticism, however, transformed into disbelief quickly, and to disdain even faster.
Ben and Luck had the best games against Denver this year. Cam has a similar build, but he can't do what Ben did in Week 15 to this D.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 27, 2016
Kacsmar believed that this perceived success as a NFL quarterback was hollow. Cam’s rookie success, Kacsmar contended, was inflated by a bunch of short yardage rushing touchdowns, a weak schedule, and the fact that Carolina still finished below .500.
2012: From Skepticism to Disbelief.
Like last week, can't really blame Cam Newton for latest 4Q loss, but I sure as hell don't give him credit for having the lead.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) September 16, 2013
To be fair, Newton didn’t have an all that great year. Carolina only improved one game from the year before, finishing 7-9. Newton struggled handling what was a decline given his outstanding rookie success. He put up numbers at times, but never at the right time, Kacsmar contented. What most indicated this, Kacsmar noted, was Cam’s poor success in game winning drive situations. For Kacsmar, Cam’s sophomore year wasn’t a slump, it was proof that Cam’s rookie success was a scam. 2012 revealed the Cam Scam, where Newton exploited underprepared defenses because a shortened offseason created by the 2011 lockout.
There are still some Carolina fans (or Cam Newton fans) that don't understand the lockout had the reverse effect it was expected to have.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) May 15, 2013
2013: From Disbelief to Contempt
Carolina went 12-4 and beat out the New Orlean Saints for the first of what would be three consecutive divisions titles. It wasn’t because of Cam, Kacsmar however concluded, it was in spite of him. Kacsmar was only partially right. The defense was the driver of that team's success, but Cam had contributed. He hadn’t put up the gaudy stats, but he started to find ways to win. Cam had even pulled out some late close games, beating the Patriots and the Saints in in the final minutes. At the very least, Newton hadn’t impeded Carolina’s success.
Nevertheless, Kacsmar didn’t think Cam should get any of the credit. Instead, Carolina’s success only validated his outlook somehow. What emerged was a deep-seated contempt for anything that undermined his position that Cam wouldn’t ever amount to much.
Cam is barely any better than he was in 2011-12. Finding a defense that keeps teams under 21 points isn't a learned QB skill. @AkberAzimi— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 23, 2013
2014: Reinforcing the Ramparts
If winning created Kacsmar’s contempt, Carolina’s difficulties winning in 2014 only reinforced it. After starting 2-0, Carolina and an injured Cam Newton went on an 8 game losing streak. Fortunately for the Panthers, the NFC South was one of the worst divisions ever, allowing Carolina to sneak into the playoffs with a losing record. Newton did get his first playoff win, but that was against a quarterbackless Arizona Cardinals team which only mustered 76 yds of total offense. Carolina put up an early fight against Seattle, but a Newton pick-6 highlighted what ended with a decisive Seahawk victory. Newton did seem to take a step forward through all of this. He handled the media better. His on-field demeanor in the face of adversity improved, and as he started to get healthy from the battery of injuries, beginning with a surgically repaired ankle and a broken back, Newton demonstrated improved decision making and accuracy.
It’s fine to not believe Cam Newton is not among the league’s elite, nor that he will be one of the best ever. Newton’s MVP season, however, clearly debunks the idea that he can’t be among the elite. Instead, a season like this shows that Newton is well on his way. To be as cavalier as Kacsmar continues to be is simply moronic.
Carolina’s success this season is impressive in any light. Kacsmar may have described Cam’s rookie success as flukey, but Carolina’s march to Super Bowl 50 has been so dominant, it can’t be a fluke. Both the Panthers and Newton have simply been great. It’s irrefutable. No individual quirky stat can change that, but you can bet that Kacsmar is digging futiley in the muck looking for he believes does.
Kacsmar is holding stubbornly to what each day seems a more and more indefensible position. His final strategy is to make this a war of attrition. Recently, Kacsmar has launched a campaign against the Denver Broncos, subtly diminishing them as a weak Super Bowl contender. He hasn’t come out and said it directly, but he has implied that this years NFL competition is sub-par. It’s logical to believe that he will at some point contend that Denver wouldn’t have made the Super Bowl in past years. It's only a matter of time before Kacsmar argues that past Super Bowl teams, even those which lost, would surely beat both Denver and Carolina.
Kacsmar has already created a safe room, forecasting that Denver will lose to Carolina. He’s steadfast this won't be because Carolina will win, but because Denver just doesn't have the offense to win. Secretly, he’s hoping that Denver does find way to win. This would superficially reinforce those crumbling ramparts of Cam Newton hyper-criticism. On the other hand, if Carolina does win, he can scream from hater hill that it was against an abnormally weak opponent.
It’s this type of positioning that Newton was referring to when he noted analysts “can easily take back what they say” without consequence. Likely, Kacsmar is going believe Cam Newton stinks no matter what happens in Super Bowl 50, but even though Cam doesn't, Kacsmar could just take it back and change his mind.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
You can monitor Scott Kacsmar's full Twitter commentary on the Panthers and Cam Newton below.