After Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos by a score of 24-10, Newton didn't have much to say in the post-game press conference. He answered questions in as few words as possible, providing no real information before abruptly leaving after just a few minutes. The typically boastful quarterback was harshly criticized for not being gracious in defeat. After all, we all like to believe that if we had just suffered the biggest defeat of our lives and were immediately forced to answer inane, pointless questions about it while our opponent was sitting in the same room bragging about beating us, we'd all put on a happy face, answer questions politely, and commend our opponents on their hard fought victory.
The truth is that sports are an emotional game and no one enjoys losing. It's difficult to judge someone for feeling bad after such a crushing defeat, especially when you've never gone through a similar experience. We often criticize professional athletes for not showing any emotion, but when they do we hammer them for it. Newton is especially easy to criticize because his personality fits the narrative that his post-game behavior was somehow unbecoming of a superstar player.
Whether or not a player is considered childish for actions like Newton's is often largely based on the media and fans' perception of the player. Newton won't likely hear the end of this until he wins a Super Bowl or at least gets back to one, while other high profile athletes have gotten a free pass for similar actions. It doesn't really seem fair, but that's what happens when people let their personal feelings towards a player influence their criticism of him. To further emphasize this point, here at the top 20 athletes who acted like "babies" in defeat, not all of whom were called out for it:
20 Byun Jong-Il
At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korean boxer Byun Jong Il lost a controversial decision 4-1 to Bulgarian Aleksandar Hristov, after he was penalized for using a head butt. Byun had been warned multiple times by referee Keith Walker about his actions before receiving a 2-point deduction. After the decision was announced five South Korean boxing officials went after the referee and were banned from the tournament. An upset Byun went and sat in the middle of the ring with his face in his hands and didn't budge for 67 minutes, delaying the next fight.
Eventually, match officials just turned off the lights and left him sitting alone in the dark. Byun was also suspended from the tournament, even though he had been eliminated anyway, and he was target for criticism, likely more for wasting time than anything else.
19 Ara Abrahamian
Greco-Roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian lost his semi-final bout in the 84-kilogram division at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing to Andrea Minguzzi due to a controversial penalty call. Abrahamian went on to win his match for the bronze medal, but after being presented with his prize, he stepped off the podium, took off his medal, and laid it on the floor before walking out in protest. Abrahamian was not only criticized for his actions, but the International Olympic Committee also disqualified him and stripped him of his medal for "violating the spirit of fair play". Whether or not you feel his actions were childish is probably based on whether or not you feel he had a legitimate argument.
18 Svetlana Khorkina
At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina lost the gold medal to American Carly Patterson. Khorkina was 25 years old and competing in her final Olympics, so the loss was especially devastating. She expressed her anger with the decision in a post-event interview saying, "I practically did everything right; still they just set me up and fleeced me." Khorkina also criticized the judges who she felt were biased and said their she had lost "because I'm from Russia, not from America." Suffice to say, Khorkina's behavior did not endear her to fans and media on this side of the Atlantic.
17 Evgeni Plushenko
At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko lost the gold medal to American Evan Lysacek. Upset that he had been defeated despite performing a quadruple jump while Lysacek did not, Plushenko briefly climbed on the gold medal spot of the podium at the awards ceremony. He reportedly said in a Russian television interview, "You can’t be considered a true men’s champion without a quad.” He also slammed Lysacek in the post race interview. "I was positive that I had won," said Plushenko. "But I suppose Evan needs the medal more than I do. I now have two silvers (from 2002 and 2010) and a gold (from 2006)." He later advertised on his website that he had won the Olympic platinum medal, a prize he made up himself. Not surprisingly, Plushenko's actions did not sit well with most people.
16 Nancy Kerrigan
We all remember Nancy Kerrigan getting attacked after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the behest of competitor Tonya Harding. Kerrigan was unable to compete in the U.S. Championships, but she was able to recover in time for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. There she lost the gold medal to Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul and while waiting an extended period of time for the award ceremony to begin she began complaining after she was mistakenly told that Baiul was having her makeup retouched after crying it all off. Kerrigan was caught on camera saying, "Oh, come on. So she's going to get out here and cry again. What's the difference?"
In actuality the delay was because officials were trying to find a copy of the Ukrainian national anthem. Nevertheless, Kerrigan's comments and her absence from the Olympic closing ceremonies which she attributed to safety concerns, hurt the figure skater's image and gave people a reason to dislike her.
15 Mike Smith
Shortly after Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown threw a big hit on Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Michal Roszival in overtime of Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Final, the Kings scored the game winning goal to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. After the game Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith called for a suspension to Brown and blamed the team's loss on the officiating. "It's not just that play, it's all game long," said Smith. "They called us for three offsides in the first period and none of them were offside. [A Kings player] flipped it over the glass — how do all four refs not see that? It's not just this game, it's all season long. They did everything they could not to let us get to this position." This is another case where how you feel about the athlete's comments probably depends on whether or not you think he was right.
14 Bill Belichick
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has long been a target of media and fan criticism for his willingness to blatantly flout the rules, whether it be by spying on his opponent's practices or stealing their playbooks. So, it's no surprise that he hasn't gained himself any favor for not handling defeat with grace. After the Patriots lost the AFC Championship game in 2013, Belichick skipped the post-game interview with CBS, much to the dismay of CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe who said, "Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can't be a poor sport all the time. You're not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It's unacceptable."
13 Dale Hunter
For the most part, calling an athlete a "baby" for being difficult after a loss is ridiculous. However, sometimes a player's antics in defeat do deserve to be harshly criticized. Such is the case of Dale Hunter. In the dying moments of the series deciding sixth game of the 1993 Patrick Division Semifinals, New York Islanders forward Pierre Turgeon stole the puck from Hunter and scored to seal the victory over the Washington Capitals.
As Turgeon started to celebrate. Hunter checked him into the boards, separating his shoulder in the process. Hunter was suspended by the NHL for the first 21 games of the following season, which at the time was the longest suspension for an on-ice incident in NHL history. Hunter deserves every bit of backlash he gets for this one. Being emotional after a loss is one thing, attempting to injure your opponent is another.
12 1972 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Team
Having never lost an Olympic basketball game, the U.S. Men's team didn't expect much difficulty in beating the Soviet Union for the gold medal at the 1972 games in Munich. They were wrong. The U.S team trailed for much of the game before taking the lead in the dying seconds. The Soviet Union called a timeout and due to several officiating errors were given three opportunities to inbound the ball before winning the game at the buzzer. The American team was obviously upset and refused their silver medals, which still remain in a Swiss vault. Tensions between the two Cold War nations were high and the Americans felt they had been cheated, so it's not surprising that they avoided much criticism for this one.
11 Chris Bosh
Following the Miami Heat's 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks in six games, Heat power forward Chris Bosh fell to his knees and began crying. Bosh, who was viewed as the team's third wheel behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, was an easy target and he was roundly criticized for showing emotion by shedding tears. Bosh eventually shot back at his critics saying,"To people who made fun of it, I thought it was messed up. It meant that much to me.
"What are your dreams? What do you want the most out of anything in this world? Dangle it in front of you, work hard as hell to get it, and then take it away. Gone." The man made a good point. Having your dreams shattered is difficult to deal with.
10 Dez Bryant
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is another NFL star who people tend to criticize due to his boisterous personality. After the Cowboys blew a 12 point fourth quarter lead in a 2013 game against the Green Bay Packers, the team's loss was pretty much sealed when quarterback Tony Romo threw his second interception of the quarter. Bryant then headed to the locker room with 1:21 remaining in the game. Afterwards he took to Twitter to say that he was too emotional to stay on the sidelines for the end of the game. This didn't win him many fans, but he did receive a backlash from the Twitterverse.
9 1990-91 Detroit Pistons
After winning back-to-back NBA Championships, the 1990-91 version of the Detroit Pistons got swept by the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the dying seconds of the deciding game, the entire team walked off the court without shaking hands with their opponents. Pistons forward and future Bull, Dennis Rodman said after the game, "Why should we give them any credit? They didn't give us any. The NBA got what they wanted, Jordan in the Finals. You read their script and you play by it. Michael Jordan is God."
The Pistons were the "Bad Boys" of the NBA, so their actions didn't gain them any praise. It did, however, allegedly play a role in Pistons' point guard Isiah Thomas being left off the original "Dream Team" at the 1992 Olympics. Thomas has since said he regrets the decision.
8 Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry & Rajon Rondo
After the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo both walked off the court without shaking their opponents' hands. Neither player apologized for their actions and during a losing skid the following season, Rondo even suggested that the Celtics needed more "sore losers" on their team.
After losing to the New York Knicks in six games in the opening round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Garnett once again walked off the court without shaking any hands with teammates Paul Pierce and Jason Terry doing the same. Rondo was absent this time due to an injury. Proponents of Garnett chalked his behavior up to his competitive nature rather than a childish act.
7 Chris Chelios
After the Anaheim Ducks eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the 2007 Western Conference final, Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios walked off the ice without shaking any of his opponents' hands. Chelios was quick to defend his own actions as part of his competitive nature, while also stressing the importance of the handshake saying, "It's all part of the game. I guess it shows good sportsmanship. As hard as you battle against your opponent and sometimes as tough as it is to shake some of their hands, at the end of the day the majority of guys in this league are really good guys...it's something that kids should learn, it's a very good tradition. I don't know when it started but I think it's one of the greatest traditions in all sports." A tradition no one seemed to mind him skipping out on.
6 Terrell Owens
Much like Cam Newton and Dez Bryant, Terrell Owens was an NFL star whose personality rubbed some people the wrong way and when he showed some emotion after a heart-breaking defeat people hammered him for it. After the Dallas Cowboys suffered a devastating playoff loss to the Giants, the usually boisterous wide receiver was teary-eyed in the post-game press conference where he defended quarterback Tony Romo. “It’s not about Tony,” said Owens. “You guys can point the finger at him. You can talk about the vacation... If you do that, that’s really unfair. Really unfair. That’s my teammate. That’s my quarterback. We lost as a team. We lost as a team, man.” The clip of that quote has been aired over and over again since primarily for people to laugh at Owens.
5 Randy Moss
Former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss was another rambunctious player who got himself into hot water for his behavior following a loss. He did it on a couple of occasions. During Moss' final game of his first stint with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, he left the field in the final moments while he his team attempted an onside kick. Moss was criticized for not standing beside his teammates during the defeat. After a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders and several seasons with the New England Patriots, Moss returned to the Vikings.
After a loss to the Patriots in his fourth game back, Moss reportedly went to team owner Zygi Wilf and told him that he thought head coach Brad Childress should be fired before criticizing the coaching staff for not listening to his advice on game planning in the post-game press conference. Moss was again condemned and the Vikings waived him the next day. A few weeks later Childress was fired, so perhaps Moss had a point.
4 Peyton Manning
If Cam Newton is looking for a high profile quarterback who got off scot-free for similar behavior, he has to look no further than to the man who just beat him. In 2010 Peyton Manning took the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl XLIV where they lost to the New Orleans Saints. At the end of the game, Manning stormed off the field without shaking hands with his opponents.
He avoided criticism as the media chalked up his behavior to him being a competitor that wanted to win rather than a "baby", which is probably the same reason Newton acted the way he did. Many critics of Newton proclaim that Manning would never act that way. Oh, how soon they forget.
3 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has never been one to handle defeat well. The star golfer can often be seen throwing a club or swearing in anger after hitting a bad shot when things aren't going well. During the peak of Woods' career he mostly got a free pass from fans and media for his behaviour. He was able to not only win consistently, but often dominated tournaments, so a lot of people didn't really care how he acted when he lost. It wasn't until the infidelity scandal broke that his image started to take a beating and people began to root against him on the golf course.
2 Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy may be one of the greatest goaltenders to ever live, but he hasn't always handled defeat the way most people would like. Early in the 1995-96 season, Roy was not getting along with Montreal Canadiens head coach Mario Tremblay and was left in net for nine goals against in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. When Roy was finally pulled out of the game, he stormed past Tremblay and went to Canadiens' president Ronald Corey, who was sitting behind the bench, to tell him that he would never play for the team again.
Four days later Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche where he picked up his third Stanley Cup victory the following spring and another one in 2001. The move worked out for Roy and most people have attributed the demise of his Montreal tenure to a bad coach rather than a Hall of Fame goaltender getting overly upset after one regular season loss.
1 LeBron James
There may not have been any bigger magnet for criticism in the NBA in recent years than LeBron James. After the Cleveland Cavaliers lost game 6 of the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. James walked off the court without shaking hands with the Magic players and then skipped the post-game press conference. Unsurprisingly, he was not lauded for being a competitor who just wanted to win, but instead criticized for acting like a "baby". After winning two NBA Championships with the Miami Heat and returning to Cleveland, Lebron James has somewhat repaired his image, but he still isn't likely to get away with being upset at losing any time soon.