Carolina Panthers

Could benching drive wedge between Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera, QB Cam Newton?

Cam Newton violates Panthers dress code

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did not start in Carolina's 40-7 loss to the Seahawks because he did not wear a tie on the team plane to Seattle.
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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did not start in Carolina's 40-7 loss to the Seahawks because he did not wear a tie on the team plane to Seattle.

Former Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz spent his final two seasons playing for the New York Giants and notorious rules-stickler Tom Coughlin.

Schwartz says Coughlin maintained a strict dress code policy, among other things. But Schwartz never saw Coughlin bench a player for violating it.

“We had guys get fined all the time,” Schwartz said. “And I’ve never seen it happen to that level.”

It happened Sunday night to Panthers quarterback and reigning league MVP Cam Newton, whose dapper black turtleneck and accompanying dark coat did not pass muster with coach Ron Rivera.

Rivera’s benching of Newton for the first series of the nationally televised, primetime game at Seattle was an attention-grabber throughout the Panthers’ locker room, NFL circles and the fashion industry.

Schwartz is convinced the first group was Rivera’s target audience -- and extended beyond Newton’s lack of a necktie.

“This was above the tie incident. It was a message sent. ... We can discuss that and debate what it could have been,” Schwartz said. “But this is a national TV game, (Rivera) knew it would make news. This is some sort of message that was sent. Whether it was for Cam or whether it’s for the whole team, I don’t know.”

Rivera insists he had no ulterior motive. But he made a point to mention a couple times that Newton -- no matter how many Pro Bowl appearances or corporate sponsors he has -- would be treated like everyone else.

Newton hasn’t always been treated that way.

Rivera has given him plenty of leeway over their six years together.

He defended Newton’s post-Super Bowl pout by suggesting players from losing Super Bowl teams shouldn’t have to face the media. Rivera laughed off a question this season when Newton was spotted riding a scooter without a helmet while in the concussion protocol.

There was also at least one previous dress code violation, which Newton indicated wasn’t handled as a big deal.

Given Rivera’s even-keeled approach and reputation as a player’s coach, it’s not his style to pull his quarterback off the team bus and confront him about what he was wearing (as video of the exchange obtained by TMZ Sports appears to show).

Rivera’s reaction and subsequent discipline had the feel of something that’s been building. Whether it was the mounting losses for his 4-8 team or frustrations related to his quarterback -- or a combination of both -- is unclear. But the thinking here is it was more than a turtleneck that prompted Rivera to do what likely no other coach had ever done to Newton -- sit him on the bench.

That it happened in prime-time with the world watching -- or at least those who still watch football -- surely embarrassed Newton. After the game Newton seemed humbled and said (most of) the right things, although he also mentioned the earlier dress code violations and started to explain away last week’s situation by pointing out how difficult it is for a 6-foot-5 guy to borrow a dress shirt.

Newton’s demeanor in meetings and at practice this week will set the tone for the final four weeks of a season gone horribly wrong.

Several of Newton’s teammates did not seem thrilled with his benching in the aftermath at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. Of course, taking a 33-point beat-down didn’t do much to improve their spirits, either.

Schwartz, who lives in the Charlotte area, doesn’t believe Rivera’s decision to sit Newton will divide the locker room.

“Losing 40-7 is more of an issue than the Cam Newton thing,” Schwartz said. “That’s what’s going to get guys more upset than anything else.”

But it could create a wedge between Newton and Rivera, who arrived in Charlotte within three months of each other in 2011 and -- at least based on outside appearances -- seem to have had a good relationship.

Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian said Rivera was “100 percent correct” to discipline Newton for breaking a rule, even a seemingly minor one.

Unlike Schwartz, Polian said benching a player for a dress code breach is not unheard of.

“It’s happened before. It’s just not that high profile on national television, that’s all,” Polian said Tuesday.

“There are rules for everybody,” Polian added. “The idea that one position is exempt from the rules, or one player is exempt from the rules, is as foreign to me as the sun rising in the west.”

But this incident involved one of the highest-profile athletes in the world and was on national television, creating the “feeding frenzy” Rivera anticipated.

Rivera said Monday he considers the matter closed. But Newton and others have a say in that, as well.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson