Scott Fowler

Don’t get tied up in nuance: Cam Newton was correctly punished for dress code violation

Cam Newton was unfit to be tied this weekend, and in so doing the Carolina quarterback created a totally avoidable and embarrassing controversy for a team that did not need another one.

Newton did not wear a necktie on the Panthers team flight to Seattle. He looked dapper as usual in a black turtleneck and matching hat, but he broke a team rule. That was Newton’s mistake, he owned it afterward, and he deserved the punishment given.

Because of Newton’s lack of a necktie – a number of teammates offered to let him borrow one, but he didn’t have a dress shirt handy and didn’t want to wear one with a turtleneck – coach Ron Rivera benched Newton for Carolina’s first offensive series. That series ended up being only one play long because Derek Anderson threw an interception symbolic of what turned out to be an awful 40-7 loss to Seattle for the Panthers (4-8).

Newton would say after the game: “We didn’t lose this game because of a tie.”

And he’s right about that – Carolina would have still lost by 30 if Newton had played that first series. The Panthers were horrible in every phase of the game Sunday. Seattle was tremendous.

But “Tie-Gate” dominated the postgame conversation, and it’s understandable why. When the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player is a healthy non-starter, that’s a story.

Look, Newton knew he was skirting a rule with that outfit, and Rivera had to do this. The coach said it was his decision to “treat (Newton) like I do all other players on the team, and so he didn’t start.”

When asked if – as a team captain – he thought he had let the team down by getting benched, Newton said: “Well, in a sense I did.”

Yes, he did.

Rivera can’t lose team

To say that Newton looked like a GQ model as usual in his black turtleneck and so “why doesn’t Rivera just give him a break” is to miss the point.

The Panthers are a team in freefall, and Rivera can’t lose the squad. Hey, I don’t like to wear a tie, either. Can’t stand them. But if my boss tells me that for a big meeting on Wednesday that I need to wear a tie, I’m going to wear one.

And if I forget and have a turtleneck on and somebody gives me a tie and says I’m about to be publicly disciplined if I don’t wear it, I’m putting on that tie. I don’t care how much of a fashion faux pas I am making.

Said Newton afterward (and I do give the guy credit for answering a lot of questions about the incident): “When you’re 6-5, trying to get a shirt – I was away from home for a week. I didn’t pack a (dress) shirt. It was a lot of ties that was given, but I can’t wear a tie with this.”

He nodded at his black turtleneck at that point. And yes, a tie would have looked silly with it.

But it looked sillier for Newton to be healthy and not playing the first offensive snap of a game that so many Panthers (Luke Kuechly, Kurt Coleman, Michael Oher, Ryan Kalil) were missing because of serious injuries and would have dearly loved to play.

‘Lack of communication’

Newton said of his outfit that he “should have just cleared it first” and also offered up that he had worn a similar no-tie outfit in another “wear a tie” situation with the Panthers and had not been penalized for it (which, if true, was a mistake by Rivera not to nip it in the bud right away). The quarterback said there was a “lack of communication” about the issue and took the blame for that.

“If coach didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately, then I wasn’t,” Newton said.

In six years with the Panthers, Newton has matured in a number of ways. But this was a regression.

Rivera and Newton have long been joined at the hip – they both joined the Panthers in 2011 – and this was a jarring note. Rivera has long been a Newton defender in practically every situation, but in this case he punished the prodigal quarterback and decided to let the chips fall where they may.

Was the punishment fair? I think so. It sent the message without going overboard. Newton entered the game down only 3-0 and still had plenty of chances to work the magic that never came.

Then the quarterback came back to the locker room, put on the “illegal” outfit once more and flew back home to Charlotte. What a long, strange trip this whole season has been for the Panthers – but this wardrobe malfunction may be the oddest detour of all.