I’ve noticed in recent years a trend that officially has become my new pet peeve.
When someone says something inflammatory, controversial, and/or divisive, they often get a pass because the inflammatory, controversial, and/or divisive comment came not as an affirmative statement but as an answer to a question.
The concept first hit my radar screen in 2011, when Giants quarterback Eli Manning declared himself to be an elite quarterback. Sure, he was asked by Michael Kay of ESPN New York whether Eli regards himself as elite. But just because a “yes” or “no” question has been posed doesn’t mean the guy has to say “yes” or “no.”
He could have (and even though he went on to prove his elite status that season should have) said, “That’s not for me to decide. I don’t worry about labels applied by others. I worry about what I can control.”
But many defended Eli’s “sure, I’m elite” response because he was simply answering a question.
Recently, that dynamic reared its head in connection with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who apparently said that he wants to be a team captain because he was asked whether he wants to be a team captain.
Regardless of how the topic is teed up, if a guy says, “I want to be a team captain,” it means he wants to be a team captain. In this era of 24-hour news cycles (which helps justify player salaries and off-field earnings), players need to constantly run whatever they plan to say through the filter.
For Newton, a better response arguably would have been something like, “That’s not for me to decide. I would be honored if my teammates choose me. And I hope that I would be worthy of wearing the ‘C’ on my jersey.”
Regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with Newton’s decision to verbalize his desire to be a team captain, the notion that he was merely answering a question is irrelevant. Most of what an athlete ever says to the media comes in response to a question, and learning how to respond to questions extemporaneously is one of the most important off-field skills for any pro athlete.
Hell, much of the dumb stuff I’ve said over the years has come in response to a question. It doesn’t change the fact that the stuff I said was dumb.