BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Cam Newton and Martin O’Neill should remember Arrigo Sacchi’s words

Cam Newton has been associated with Superman ever since he started celebrating scores and other big plays by pretending to rip his jersey from his chest like the Man of Steel, but no-one was ever under the illusion that he was perfect.

His college days and early years in the NFL were pockmarked by instances of immaturity and his form has dipped dramatically this last 12 months, but the impression of his six seasons and counting with the Carolina Panthers has been that of a guy who does a lot of things well on and off the field.

Newton has committed to a fair amount of work with children and charities around the city of Charlotte, he delivered on a promise made to his mum when earning a sociology degree from Auburn University only two years ago and he was the main man when the Panthers reached Super Bowl 50.

He is also a committed Christian and, like so many modern American stars, gives thanks to his maker for the bounty of good fortune heaped upon him.

“He’s using me to extend his word and I’m a prime example of how God could turn something that was bad into something that was very great,” he once said.

All that’s hard to square with his words and actions this week when the 28-year-old smirked and condescended Jourdan Rodrigue, a female reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who had asked him a routine question about Panthers receiver Devin Funchess’ ability to run manoeuvres known as routes.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes like … it’s funny.” Newton said.

Bad as the words out of his mouth were, they were nothing compared to the awful body language.

The whole scene was a tapestry of ignorance and such stereotyping was all the more disappointing from a man who you could argue has been unduly criticised for his on-field exuberance because of the colour of his skin.

Reports that Newton later apologised were countered by Rodrigue who claimed the player had been even “worse” when they spoke privately. 

Newton was criticised for walking out of a post-game press conference after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos almost two years ago but this was a whole other ball game.

It isn’t six months since David Moyes bridled at BBC reporter Vicki Sparks’ suggestion that a draw against Burnley had heaped more pressure on a Sunderland manager hanging on to the Premiership’s cliff-face. The riposte, delivered when he thought the camera had stopped rolling, was shocking.

“You were getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself,” said Moyes. “You might still get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in.”

An apology was duly accepted and Moyes fined but the episode highlighted again the sexism that remains embedded in sport.

And this dismissiveness is a particularly nasty strain of the wider virus that exists in the minds of some high-achieving sports people — most are perfectly polite and professional when faced with a tough question or a critical tweet — that deems any hint of criticism or close inspection from the media or general public as an affront from lesser mortals.

Among them is the petulant rugby international who has smirked and smarmed at perfectly good questions over the years — some of them not even directed at him. Or the former GAA star who once offered two or three-word responses at a launch he was paid good money to attend and promote through the media.

Look, there are enough times when an eye roll or a click of the tongue would be positively encouraged.

Martin O’Neill was asked yesterday if he had anything to say about Rory McIlroy’s ‘revelation’ that Roy Keane had once refused him an autograph as a kid. And this just a day out from a must-win World Cup qualifier.

Yet O’Neill has been among the worst offenders when it comes to looking down his nose at people doing their jobs.

His post-match interviews with RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue have been epics of tension and he has dismissed criticisms by Eamon Dunphy on the basis that he was just a failed player who couldn’t make the grade at Manchester United.

It’s an inference that echoes the Indian proverb that warns against judging a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins. 

That has its merits, but let’s go instead with the words of Arrigo Sacchi who once made the leap from shoe salesman to legendary AC Milan.

“I never realised that to be a jockey you had to be a horse first,” said the Italian when the absence of a professional playing career in his timeline was used to question his ability to manage at the game’s highest levels.

Cam Newton and Martin O’Neill would do well to remember that.

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