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September 8, 2016 - Denver, Colorado, U.S - Broncos OLB VON MILLER, lower left, sacks Panthers QB CAM NEWTON, center, during the 2nd. Half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Thursday night. The Broncos beat the Panthers 21-20 (Photo by Hector Acevedo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
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Harkins: Cam Newton gives NFL free pass on player safety

(Hector Acevedo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
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Cam Newton took several hard shots to his head in the Carolina Panthers’ season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos.

Two of those hits resulted in Broncos players being fined, drawing attention to a system which allows those hits to take place without in-game punishment – there was only one flag thrown despite all of the hits he took – and also drawing criticism to the Panthers in how they handled Newton during the game.

Newton, though, showed on Wednesday that he is quite sick of the topic, poo-pooing any talk about the potential damage inflicted by those hits and absolving his team of any wrongdoing in how they handled things.

“I worry about winning. That’s it,” Newton said. “Winning. Winning football games. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to worry about retirement plans. I’m not here to worry about pensions. I’m not here to worry about worker’s comp. I’m here to win football games, simple and plain. And this is a contact sport, this is a physical sport, and I play the games for the right reasons, for whatever coach asks me to do I’m going to do it. I’m here to win football games.”

Roger Goodell, NFL owners, coaches and medical officials should all get together and send Newton a huge thank you note. Because with his statements on Wednesday, Newton absolved the entire industry of any wrongdoing in protecting the health of its players, and propagated the flawed culture of football, including all of its violence and machismo.

Just shut up and play the game. Don’t complain. Play hurt. Shrug off injuries. Sacrifice your body, and if necessary, your brain, for the good of your team and the glory of the sport.

That’s the kind of culture that led to Mike Webster and Junior Seau, to Dave Duerson and Tyler Sash, to countless others who suffered from brain trauma well after their playing days were over. That’s the kind of culture that needs to change, the sooner the better.

Maybe Newton got a concussion last week and maybe he didn’t, but that’s hardly the point. The point is that the officials and the Panthers let him down. The referees should have thrown a flag on every single hit a Bronco levied to Newton’s head in that game, and Panthers doctors should have taken a moment to examine Newton on the sideline at some point — heck, any point — during the game. Neither happened.

The lack of action in that game gave tacit approval to the way the game has been played in the past, approving it to be played the same way in the future. Given a chance to speak out on the subject, Newton unfortunately let everyone off the hook.

“I’m not here to worry about worker’s comp,” he said, “I’m here to win football games.”

We’ll see how he feels about that a decade from now, when he has all of his victories under his belt. Maybe he’ll be fine — here’s hoping he will be. But if he keeps taking shots the way he did last week, the odds of that happening are slim.

And as the NFL’s march toward improving player safety drags at a snail’s pace, Newton just gave them a free pass to continue moving that slowly.

Harkins: Cam Newton gives NFL free pass on player safety

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