Cam Newton tore down a Packers banner at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. Well, that was the initial report. The reality is that the Panthers quarterback took it from the hands of some North Carolina Packers fans, folded it up and put it in a walkway under the stadium -- but that doesn't sound quite dramatic enough. It was a moment every NFL fan would LOVE if their quarterback did it, and HATE if any opposing player tried -- hence the mind-numbing stupidity of "BannerGate" was born.
Initially the fans told reporters that they "thought it was a joke" when Newton took the banner, but behind closed doors things were very different. On Facebook one man holding the sign launched into a racism-fueled rant that included calling Newton "ghetto" and suggesting he was approaching them "begging for money."
Regardless of the horrible language used by fans, the whole situation appears to be a misunderstanding. The Packers fans claim they got approval from the stadium before bringing the banner, which appears to be against the Panthers' own banner policy:
"No banners or flags expressing support of visiting teams may be affixed to or displayed on any surface. Hand held signs or posters that are in compliance with the balance of this policy are acceptable."
Despite the banner being hung over a Bank of America Stadium railing, these fans claim their sign was allowed because they were holding it with their hands. Whether or not that complied with the "balance of this policy" is where the grey area lies. Regardless of the policy the "North Carolina Cheeseheads" escalated the situation when they reported Newton to local police for theft, claiming their banner was stolen.
It's unclear what conversations the fans had with stadium security, but they say they were told Newton "tore up the banner" in the Panthers locker room, which would be an awfully impressive feat -- even for Cam Newton. It was eight feet long and made of canvas, reported to be valued at $500. If security told the fans their banner was destroyed then they have a right to be upset (the Panthers say they are in the process of providing a replacement), but taking it to police (as opposed to escalating through stadium security) was an unnecessary step that caused the maximum amount of exposure and coverage.
Panthers players, attempting to take focus off Newton, all claimed responsibility.
Ryan Kalil (@ryankalil) November 9, 2015
Mike Tolbert (@miketolbert35) November 9, 2015
Sorry bud for telling you to rip that banner down yesterday! Didn't realize people would have a problem! @CameronNewton— Derek Anderson (@DAnderson314) November 9, 2015
Keeping it it may have been my fault @CameronNewton took that dudes sign I came in the locker room telling everyone how mad I was about it— Roman Harper (@Harp41) November 9, 2015
In the aftermath the Packers fans claim to have received death threats as a result, which if true is utterly reprehensible. However, when something is done with the intent of achieving the maximum amount of exposure (like reporting an NFL quarterback to the police) naturally that will cause horrible people to come out of the woodwork. That's not excusing something as serious as death threats, it's an unfortunate byproduct of being in the spotlight -- a spotlight that never needed to be on in the first place.
What Newton saw as "protecting his house" became a story large enough for the team to address.
Rivera says Cam has been talked to about taking down the banner and team is reaching out to the family.— Joe Person (@josephperson) November 9, 2015
Herein lies the dichotomy that NFL players have to reconcile. The league packages them as "passionate." Sponsors like Under Armour even use the phrase "Protect This House" in marketing, and yet when players manifest this passion they are dog-piled by fans. Especially a player like Cam Newton, who has been polarizing throughout his career.
Should Cam Newton have torn down a Packers banner? No, probably not -- regardless of how much Panthers fans might like it. However, an opposing fan should also have the wherewithal not to bring an opposing banner into a home stadium. As we ask players to keep their passion in check, so too do fans need to understand what is and isn't appropriate. In a year that has seen a stunning amount of fan violence in stadiums across the league, visiting fans should seriously weigh their decisions to antagonize other fans against the value of their display of fanhood.
Unfortunately this has spawned a situation where nobody is right. Everyone is getting attention for the wrong reasons and that's a shame.
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SB Nation presents: Newton also went out of his way to give fan a souvenir