For an entire week, Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, the league MVP, the most physically gifted quarterback in the history of professional football, was pestered with questions about his blackness—from the lopsided level of criticism he receives for it (e.g. why his innocuous end-zone dances are on the receiving end of more media vitriol than, say, Ben Roethlisberger’s numerous sexual-assault allegations), to the stigma placed on mobile black QBs.“It’s not an issue,” Newton told a particularly implacable reporter of the mobile black QB stereotype. “It’s an issue for you.”
Given that Russell Wilson, a black QB with live legs, had won it all three years prior, this line of questioning was purely meant to provoke a reaction from Newton—to instigate a rant on race; to feed the tired Any Given Sunday narrative of “Steamin’” Willie Beamen vs. Jack “Cap” Rooney, the arrogant black stud pitted against the noble, grizzled white vet. He didn’t take the bait, instead turning the question back on the media for perpetuating these racially charged plotlines.After his team lost the Super Bowl to the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, with Newton delivering his worst performance of the season, the 26-year-old once again found himself in the media’s crosshairs. After being asked the same question over and over again about his perceived lack of preparedness, a visibly dejected Newton walked out of the postgame presser. And the press and public had a field day, with everyone from racist ex-pros to Brat Packers condemning him for it, while in the same breath lauding Manning as a paragon of integrity. Fox Sports, the trolliest of the troll-hards, even labeled Newton “The Donald Trump of the NFL.”
While Newton expressed his understandable frustration at the biggest disappointment of his professional career, Manning the Virtuous, who’s never met a product plug he didn’t want to plunge directly into his anus, celebrated his career-capping victory by a) embracing Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, and b) shilling for Budweiser by giddily proclaiming, “I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy, I promise you that.” For the record, Manning owns a stake in two Anheuser-Busch distributors in his home state of Louisiana, as well as 21 Papa Johns pizzerias in Colorado. So, during the most ecstatic moment of his career, Manning took it upon himself to plug his businesses.
If that weren’t enough, Manning, for whatever reason, chose to blow off his team’s four-hour Super Bowl victory party at the Santa Clara Marriott, featuring a performance by Flo Rida. Cam Newton blew off the media; Peyton Manning blew off his teammates and Flo Rida. But all the criticism post-Super Bowl 50 has been directed at Newton.
Then again, it’s been that way his entire career—and Manning’s.
There is one giant blemish on Newton’s record: the laptop incident. In 2008, while a sophomore at the University of Florida, he stole a fellow student’s laptop. The charges were dropped after he completed a pre-trial intervention program, but, facing expulsion, he was forced to transfer first to Blinn College—a community college in Brenham, Texas—and then Auburn. He paid a heavy toll for his mistake, a crime born of educational necessity, with the media both excoriating him for it and ridiculing the details. Yet Newton’s legion of detractors still invoke #laptopgate every so often, plastering his mugshot across social media.
Ever since that unfortunate incident, Newton’s been a stalwart citizen, handing out game balls to over-the-moon kids in the stands and flashing that big, ever-present smile. The guy is so damn positive he was seen smiling after flipping his truck a half-dozen times in a freak auto accident in 2014. Newton broke his back in two places yet it took him just 12 days to fully recover.
And if you want to talk double standards, when Newton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, team owner Jerry Richardson demanded that his star rookie remain clean-cut—no growing his hair out or getting tattoos. But weeks earlier, the Panthers signed the white tight end Jeremy Shockey, who had long blond hair and arms covered in tattoos.
Peyton Manning never needed to steal a laptop, of course. He’s the son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning, and has led a pretty blessed life. While he was at the University of Tennessee, however, Manning was accused of sexually harassing a team trainer, Jamie Ann Naughright.
According to an excerpt from the university’s investigative report, Naughright was treating Manning’s foot when he began “asking me several personal questions” including if she “hang(s) out with people she works with.” When she didn’t entertain them, he allegedly exposed himself to her. “It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles and the area in between the testicles. And all that was on my face when I pushed him up,” Naughright later said in a court deposition. “To get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off.”
Archie intervened on his son’s behalf, and Peyton’s punishment was a two-week athletic dining hall ban and two weeks of 6 a.m. running sessions. Then, to add insult to injury, Manning labeled her a “vulgar woman” in the book he co-wrote with Archie, Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy. Calling his actions “inappropriate,” he nonetheless blamed it on, as our Robert Silverman put it, “the destruction of male-only spaces.”
“Never mind that women in the men’s locker room is one of the most misbegotten concessions to equal rights ever made,” Manning wrote. “When Dad played, there was still at least a tacit acknowledgment that women and men are two different sexes, with all that implies, and a certain amount of decorum had to be maintained. Meaning when it came to training rooms and shower stalls, the opposite sex was not allowed. Common sense tells you why.”
Naughright filed a defamation suit against Manning in 2002 because of the book, and the two settled for an undisclosed sum in 2003. But the incidents, which are far worse than those of Newton, haven’t followed Manning in the same way. Part of this is the proliferation of blogs and the Internet, but another part is racial—that white athletes can scrub away these stains easier than their black counterparts.
In addition to the shameless salesmanship, the sexual-assault allegation and smears, and the post-Super Bowl vanishing act, there’s the allegations made in the Al Jazeera documentary The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping. Released in December, the doc claims Manning took a human growth hormone prescribed by the Guyer Institute, an Indianapolis-based anti-aging clinic, that was shipped to his wife, Ashley. What’s more, prior to the documentary’s release, Manning retained former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to deal with the blowback. According to The Washington Post, Team Manning then sent two goons—one falsely claiming to be a police officer—to ex-Guyer employee (and doc source) Charlie Sly’s house to grill him. The very next day, Sly reportedly changed his tune and claimed he made it all up. The National Football League has opened up an investigation into the claims.
Manning is quite the diva. There’s the ridiculous on-field histrionics—the incessant hand-waving, stomping, and audibling—along with the time he was caught fighting with his offensive line, or throwing them under the bus following a tough 2006 playoff loss to the Steelers. “I’m trying to be a good teammate here,” said Manning during the postgame press conference. “Let’s just say we had some problems with protection.”
Really, when it comes to class, while Newton may dab every now and then and walked out of a single press conference, he at least had the decency to greet Manning on the field after the crushing loss and shake his hand—which is more than can be said of Manning.
Yes, following his 2010 Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints, Manning refused to so much as shake the hand of opposing QB Drew Brees on the field—or any of the Saints for that matter, even though it was his father’s old team—instead storming off the field and into the tunnel. Say what you will about Newton’s presser, this exhibited far worse sportsmanship. And was Manning ripped apart by the media? No, in fact they even went as far as to defend him.
“Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn’t at all disrespectful or bitter,” wrote Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Chase. “It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?”