Missed Calls on Cam Newton: Intentional or Poor Officiating?

Following a number of unpenalized hits he’s taken this season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has called out NFL referees for missing calls.

Jake Matise, Sports Editor

Following their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Oct. 30, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton of the National Football League (NFL) voiced his concern regarding the hits he absorbed that warranted a penalty, but did not draw a flag. Newton stated in a press conference after the Panthers’ 30-20 win that he “doesn’t feel safe” and that the officials are”taking the fun out of the game” by letting opposing players get away with illegal hits. Newton also let the press know of his intentions to speak with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the issue, and told NBC Sports on Wednesday, Nov. 2, that he had a great discussion with Goodell.

While Newton’s concerns are justified, the referees are not only missing calls when he is hit. Pro Football Talk reported that 11 more quarterbacks have received missed roughing calls since 2013, so I wouldn’t say there is intentional bias against Newton, or any NFL quarterback, for that matter. However, Newton has not received a single roughing the passer penalty since 2014, with the exception of the one roughing penalty called this year that was offset by Newton’s own intentional grounding penalty. The lack of calls could have something to do with Newton’s size at the quarterback position. His 6’5”, 250-pound frame allows him to absorb hits that would do more damage to the league’s smaller quarterbacks. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera compared the uncalled illegal hits on Newton to the uncalled fouls on basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. “He’s a bigger guy at the position, as opposed to some of the smaller guys,” said Rivera. “When they get hit they roll around to the ground. When he gets hit, he absorbs them and it doesn’t look as bad.” I personally believe that Rivera is correct in this statement. A quarterback’s reaction to a hit can make a hit look worse than it is, and vice versa in Newton’s case.

Newton understands that he is putting himself at risk when he runs with the football, and is not upset about the hit that gave him a concussion when he dove for a two-point conversion during a game against the Atlanta Falcons earlier this season. He’s not asking for much; simply that referees call the illegal hits that he takes when he is in the pocket.

While it may be easy to dismiss Newton’s comments as whining or a melodramatic reaction, his point is very much a relevant one. Newton’s image can be seen as flamboyant and sometimes even immature in his celebrations and postgame attire, and as evident in his postgame conference after Super Bowl 50. By no means should anyone disregard his valid point simply due to his personality. The NFL needs to do a better job calling penalties for everyone, not just Newton. TV ratings are unusually low for NFL games this year, and they will continue to drop if star players are injured. It will be interesting to see if any roughing the passer penalties are called on Newton during the Panthers’ next game on Sunday, Nov. 6, and whether or not their opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, limit their contact against him.