After Cam letters, a refresher on how opinion pages work

Many Carolina Panthers fans cheered quarterback Cam Newton and his new son. But some letter-writers didn’t.
Many Carolina Panthers fans cheered quarterback Cam Newton and his new son. But some letter-writers didn’t. AP

There seems to be some confusion about the role of the Charlotte Observer’s Opinion pages. It is not to reaffirm what you already think, or to protect you from opinions that are different from yours.

Some readers are perplexed because we ran letters to the editor this week in which readers opined that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton should marry his girlfriend rather than have a child out of wedlock. We also ran letters supporting Newton and expressing confidence that he will be a great father, married or not.

This is what we do on the Opinion pages, both with letters from readers and from local and syndicated columnists. We publish opinions, from all sides, about current events (the Observer had run news of Newton’s fatherhood on the front page a few days before).

It is almost certain that any given reader will find opinions with which they agree and ones with which they disagree. That’s certainly true for those of us on the editorial board.

In Tuesday’s letters, reader Patricia Broderick of Mooresville argued that Cam hadn’t been “man enough to marry the mother of his child.” Another letter-writer, Thomas Uhl, opined that Newton’s actions contribute to a decline in “family principles.”

We ran two other letters supporting Newton. Sheila Peltzer was glad he left practice for his son’s birth, and CJ Walters expressed confidence that Newton will be a great father, married or not.

These letters reflected the sentiments of many others who wrote in on both sides. Publishing them was not an endorsement of one view or the other by the Observer, but a reflection of differing opinions within the community. It’s what we strive to do.

Some people were bewildered that the Observer would publish the letters. How could the Observer criticize the franchise quarterback during a playoff run? Why don’t we recognize all the good Newton does as a role model? Would we run a similar letter about a white quarterback?

Well, we didn’t criticize Newton. Letter-writers did. Either way, it is not a newspaper’s job to fawn over and protect home-team athletes from any criticism. The objectors know of Newton’s good deeds in the community only because we and other media outlets have reported them. And race has nothing to do with which letters we run.

Associate editor Peter St. Onge deftly explored what’s behind all the reactions, including the element of race, here.

There’s something about Newton that makes people’s heads spin. When a now-infamous Tennessee mom criticized Newton’s dancing in November, she was vilified across the Internet.

Newton himself had the appropriate response to the Tennessee Mom, and it’s a good reminder for those consternated over letters to the editor: “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” Newton said. We think at least some of them should have a voice, even when we disagree. – Taylor Batten