SportsThe Broncos Will Pay For Bashing Cam Newton, But The NFL Won’t
Goodell gets to have his hard hits and his high horse, too.
Let’s start with the fact that last night’s Broncos/Panthers game was fucking stellar, because that’s gonna be all that matters after we get past the “Denver’s defense tried to decapitate Cam Newton” storyline that will play out over the next few days. It was a well-played, close, shockingly quick-moving game (nothing makes an NFL game seem faster than coming off a full weekend of four-hour college football games) that featured jussssst the right amount of bad coaching to get me screaming at Ron Rivera through my TV and loving the chance to do so.
That kind of kickass game is why the NFL can bully through your average concussion scandal without any shit sticking to its back. If you weren’t around for it, Denver’s defense hit Panthers QB Cam Newton in the head a great many times last night: jarring, full-on helmet-to-helmet hits that should have been flagged but were not (the one time they DID penalize Denver for headhunting, they also penalized Newton for intentional grounding, which only occurred because Newton had been SPEARED IN THE HEAD, essentially granting the Broncos a free lick). After the game, Newton couldn’t remember a damn thing.
The NFL has assured viewers, time and again, that it has legislated these hits out of the sport, even constructing bullshit youth football programs around the talking point. And frankly, those hits usually DO get flagged, sometimes to the point of hideous overcorrection. You and I have both seen moments when a defense gets 15 yards just for breathing on a quarterback. It’s really annoying. Why Gene Steratore and his crew decided to swallow their whistles last night is something of a mystery. Maybe they simply didn’t see the hits. Maybe they looked at Newton—who is an absolute tank of a man—and figured he could take it.
Regardless, someone is going to pay. There’s already been enough of a Twitter outcry around what happened last night that we are moments away from Roger Goodell storming in and wiping his ginger dick all over the situation. I can hear his footsteps coming down the hall as we speak. If Steratore isn’t punished, you can bet that the Broncos will be. There will be fines. There will be sternly-worded letters. There may even be a suspension, particularly for LB Brandon Marshall, who left his feet to spear Newton (Marshall also knelt for the anthem last night, which gives Goodell double the incentive to punish him; presumably he will be stroking a giant bronze eagle while handing down his judgment). The NFL has already looked into whether or not the Panthers violated league protocol by sending Newton back onto the field with little birds chirping around his head (they have apparently decided everything was fine because a doctor looked at Newton get hit on VIDEO, so that's that, I guess).
That is how the NFL works now. What you saw last night was a glorious mess. And it is Roger Goodell’s job to come in, well after the fact, and look like he’s cleaning up that mess. The man is always about punishment and not prevention. In Goodell’s worldview, football is a force for good. It is safe, and can only be unsafe when played by bad, dangerous people. And he will get rid of the dangerous people and absolve YOU, the home viewer, of any guilt in watching the spectacle (in my case, Goodell has been successful; I still feel exhilarated this morning from the game). Like my friend Will Leitch has said, if the NFL was gonna pay for all this concussion shit, it would have already done so by now.
Frankly, all the outrage that will be ginned up over Denver’s headhunting is PART of the entertainment package. When Laremy Tunsil had his horrifying draft night, Goodell openly admitted that the drama was good for the league. And so it will be here. Not only do you get to watch a good football game, but there’s enough controversy lingering for a miniature hot stove to rage until the next game hits. What you saw last night was the NFL and its best and at its worst, and Roger Goodell secretly knows that the “worst” is the juiciest part of it.
Drew Magary is a GQ correspondent and author, most recently of "The Hike."