For years now, ESPN and other television networks have commented on whether football players, like Cam Newton or Victor Cruz, should be celebrating the way they do when they make it into the end zone.
Now Cam Newton has complained about being hit as a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage—more than other quarterbacks (like Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson). He believes opposing teams are targeting him with illegal hits or with hitting too hard, too low. “It’s really taking the fun out of the game for me,” Newton said, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “At times I don’t even feel safe. And enough is enough. I plan on talking to commissioner [Roger] Goodell about this.”
Question: Is Cam being treated differently than other quarterbacks? If so—why?
For the record, I love watching Cam play. In many games, he is obviously the best athlete on the field. His size, his speed, his talent and his agility set him apart as an MVP this last year. He is amazing.
The Ego Factor
But here’s what I know about the male ego. It finds expression on both sides of the ball. And that’s what’s happening now.
Consider these facts.
Most sports involve lots of emotions. Football is no different. So when a player defeats an opponent and scores, it’s an emotional experience on both sides. When the conquering athlete begins to strut and excessively celebrate—it may be fun in the moment, but it’s all the more humiliating to the defender. Subconsciously, opponents may draw upon emotional reserves to retaliate later in the game, or later in the season.
So, if I were to chat with Mr. Newton, I’d say: If you strut, and dab and swag in the face of your opponent when you beat them—just plan on them coming after you hard whenever they can . . . after your celebration. Call it fairness. Call it the male ego.
I’m not suggesting wrongful hits are appropriate. From my perspective, they are no more appropriate than the arrogant swagger a player displays when he scores. Both are unsportsmanlike and fail to represent the team or the league well. Both are wrong, but . . . the pursuit of justice for perceived wrongs seems to find a way to surface in the minds of competitors.
Cam is on the tough side of this debate now. “We all know football is an extremely hard sport to play. And I think it’s a reward as a player,” said Cam Newton, who surprisingly has never been flagged for excessive celebration. I wonder if part of the problem is—defenders believe if the referee won’t call him on excessive celebration, they will enforce justice in their own way with a hit. Right or wrong.
Why I am a Fan of Sportsmanship
This case is why I am a fan of sportsmanship. Both teams should lay it all on the field. Give your best. But when you succeed, celebrate with your teammates and get off the field. When the contest is over . . . congratulate your opponent for their effort.
That’s how it was in years gone by.
When I was growing up, the biggest celebration after a touchdown was a spiked ball. Now it’s taunting and dances which are both offenses in the NFL and NCAA. The way I see it, excessive celebration and unsportsmanlike conduct bring five negative, measurable downsides:
- A penalty is called for “excessive celebration.” The NCAA and NFL assess a 15-yard penalty against the offending team on the next play. You lose ground against your opponent. It’s not worth it. Winning teams usually win the contest of yards at game’s end.
- It’s been known to directly affect scores. In December 2010, KSU’s Adrian Hillburn scored against Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. After the penalty for his celebration, Kansas State’s 2-point conversion to tie the game pushed the ball back to the 18-yard line, and KSU missed the conversion. Syracuse went on to win the game.
- In the NFL, players pay fines. Antonio Brown charged into the goalpost pylon after returning a punt for a score and was penalized 15 yards for “using the goalpost as a prop.” And later he was fined $11,576 by the NFL. To me, that’s a waste of money.
- It invites retaliation. Cam Newton now feels what it’s like to incur the wrath of defenders who’ve chosen to bring their own justice to his struts and style. It’s a stab for a dab. I don’t think you can have it both ways. One invites the other.
- People begin to see you as a punk more than a player. They lose respect for athletes who display boyish behavior, and can’t seem to control their egos. It’s like taking a bunch of self-congratulatory “selfies” at 5 pm as you leave the office. Aren’t you just doing what you are supposed to do? Sportsmanship, in contrast, earns respect and honor from others.
To build sportsmanship on your teams, you’ll have to develop leaders. Leaders are those who see the big picture, maintain poise in key moments, know the priorities and influence teammates to do the same. They need to cultivate new Habitudes.
To me, sportsmanship beats swagger and keeps you in the game longer.
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