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February 17, 2016
by Anne Kip Watson

The Failed Dreams and Lessons We Can Learn from Elite Athletes: Cam Newton

February 17, 2016 13:14 by Anne Kip Watson  [About the Author]

Every athlete hates losing especially on the largest stage in sports, the NFL Super Bowl. Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, set the record straight and he defends behaving like a ‘sore loser’ following the Panthers 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos.

During his post-game press conference Newton gave brief one to two word answers. He kept his hoodie over his head and appeared to be put out by the questions coming from the media. He then abruptly left the podium creating a storm of criticism about this conduct.

Expectations on Self and from Others Building Pressure

Newton took home the league’s Most Valuable Player of the year award the night before the big game. Pressure from nearly all sides fell on Newton. He entered the game with the momentum, Vegas odds on his side, only one loss, the city of Charlotte highly hopeful, and anticipation from Panther’s owner and team who had been to the big show before and lost.

His short and pouty responses after the game did not fit the expectations of a leader and an MVP award winning professional. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old Newton continues to uphold his actions and believes the situation was blown out of proportion. He indicates he would not have changed a thing about his responses revealing his feelings were obviously raw and he did not want to talk to the media. “When you invest so much time and sacrifice so much and things don’t go as planned, I think emotions take over,” Newton said. “I think that is what happens” (Associated Press, 2016).

Head Coach Ron Rivera who took home the NFL Coach of Year award backs Newton’s choices. “He hates to lose, that’s the bottom line. That is what you love in him,” Rivera said. “I would much rather have a guy who hates to lose than a guy who accepts it. The guy who accepts it, you might as well just push him out of your locker room because you don’t want him around” (Associated Press, 2016).

Perhaps, Newton takes losing more personal than most as a result of the expectations of himself and the expectations from others to perform.

In the past, the first round draft pick took hits from the media early on in his career for sulking off to the side by himself during games. In previous defeats, reports indicate the QB sat with his uniform still on troubled and upset for more than 30 minutes after the conclusion of a game. At times, Newton also let the media wait more than an hour before showing up for his job required duty to address the media (Associated Press, 2016).

Failure Reveals Character

Perhaps Newton can take a few pointers from his counterpart. Just a year ago, 27-year-old Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks threw an interception at the goal line in the last few seconds of the game. A costly mistake he took the blame for in his post Super Bowl interview. “I put the blame on me, I’m the one who threw it. It’s something you learn from and grow from,” he said (Wilson, 2015).

Unlike Newton, Wilson engaged the media after losing, answered their questions in complete sentences, and did not appear to be distraught nor a ‘sore loser’.  The young leader displayed a professional attitude and what sportsmanship looks at every level.

Just two days after losing Super Bowl 49, Wilson, in fact, was back in the hospital visiting sick kids. He said his recent big stage debacle did not matter to those fighting for their life. “I think that to be able to try to find a way to change people’s lives and to be there for them and give them a boost is really important to me. They don’t realize how much they’ve affected me” (Dicker, 2015).

Taking the focus off self and putting it on the opportunity to give back to others is a hard sell after losing such an important game. The contrast between failure with opportunity jerks common sense and traditional thinking out the window. But that is exactly the difference between an athlete of character and a sore loser.

Character Takes Ownership of Mistakes

Wilson exhibited this paramount rule in team sports as the leader of his team. The 12th pick in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL draft, Wilson owned the mistake that cost the team a Super Bowl victory. He gave credit to his teammates for what they did right and the effort and determination they gave.

Contrary, when the defeat is excused or blamed on others, then it is much harder to improve and change. By acknowledging what went wrong, it actually clears the mind, calms the negative emotions, and produces a more coachable attitude towards advancement.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Summer Sanders failed to make the 1988 Olympic team by .027 of a second. During an interview with the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to using the vehicle of sports to teach life lessons, Sanders recalled being in the lead and then ‘freaking out’ and losing her mental focus to the finish.

She told PCA she spent the next four years using her failure and learning from it. She testified the education from her breakdown was the most important thing she did in swimming and in her career not winning the gold medal, “If you can’t take an experience on the field, on the court, or in the pool and learn from it and be better next time, then you are missing a huge gift that sport’s gives you. I use that in my daily life every single day.” (Sanders, 2011).

In their recent book, Whatever the Cost, former Major League Baseball players David and Jason Benham note success is not a destination – it’s the journey. Throughout the book, the brothers describe multiple failures, injuries, and difficulties as athletes. They boiled down their disappointments as lessons in identity. “We learned that if you are defined by what you do, then your success or failure at what you do will dictate your self-worth. If you fail, then in your mind you’re a failure. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. It’s impossible to die to a dream when it defines you” (Benham & Lamb, 2015)

No One is Immune to Failure

Sometimes the darker the situation, the brighter the opportunity. Author and speaker Steven Furtick in his book Sun Stand Still writes extensively about dreams that do not come true. He suggests reputation is demonstrated by working through adversity rarely in the removal of the challenge, “we must see past the danger and embrace the opportunity in our crisis. (Furtick, 2010).

The fact remains, everyone, including athletes, experiences failure. Adversity of loss is inevitable. The challenge to comeback from failure presents a common experience by all humans. Cam Newton has been handed a tremendous gift in this loss. As the NFL’s MVP, time will tell of what he makes of this valuable opportunity.


Associated Press. (2016, February 9). Cam Newton Defends Postgame Behavior at the Super Bowl. Retrieved from New YorkTimes:
Benham, D. &., & Lamb, S. (2015). Whatever the Cost. Nashville: W Publishing Group.
Dicker, R. (2015, February 6). Russell Wilson went right back to visiting sick kids after Super Bowl loss. Retrieved from Huffington Post:
Furtick, S. (2010). Sun Stand Still. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books.
Sanders, S. (2011). Learning from Mistakes. (P. C. Alliance, Interviewer)
Wilson, R. (2015, February 1). Russell Wilson takes the blame for Super Bowl 49 loss to the Patriots. (T. P. Game, Interviewer)

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