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Ryan Waning Ryan Waning
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The Sports Edge Different players, different rules

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton  lies on the turf after a roughing the passer penalty on Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart, No. 26, on Sept. 8, 2016, in Denver. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton lies on the turf after a roughing the passer penalty on Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart, No. 26, on Sept. 8, 2016, in Denver. (AP photo/Joe Mahoney)

I had a hard time watching the NFL'sThursdaynight opener.

Not just because they puked so much pre-kickoff pat-themselves-on-the-back pageantry on their fresh-from-the-box cleats (although that certainly didn't help). No, it was the sad, simple fact that the referees have taken on one of the worst habits of NBA officials - and it's impacting the game just as severely.

At least twice, Cam Newton was earholed by Bronco defenders hits that absolutely warranted roughing the passer flags. Just like any fan of the Patriots, I am someone who watches on a week-to-week basis how officials handle 'by the book' protection of the quarterback differently depending on who's under center. Of course, the league is undoubtedly inclined to protect not each team's individual face, let alone Tom Brady, who serves as one of the faces of the entire NFL.

I get it. It's finances. A team whose quarterback goes down for an extended length of time is headed for the bottom of the standings. Not every team has a Doug Williams on the bench waiting for his chance; a lot of teams have a Michael Bishop instead. Those teams fail, their fans stop buying tickets, stop watching the games and stop buying jerseys.

How many people are banging down the doors of their local Sherwin Williams to get the official colors of the Jacksonville Jaguars so they can paint up their man cave black and teal and gold? I bet we can count them on one hand.

So the NFL looks out for the guys who sell the most tickets and jerseys. That much we can agree on. And I would submit to you that Cam Newton falls into that category, perhaps bordering on an elite level. He is young and marketable, as well as the person that most people associate with the Carolina Panthers, a still-buzzworthy team fresh off of a Super Bowl visit.

And yet, duringThursdaynight's game against the Broncos, he was knocked around and beaten pretty soundly.

Bear in mind, I'm not talking about when the Panthers run their spread option stuff and Newton keeps the ball and turns the corner. When he does that, game on. He's a football player and should be treated (and tackled) as such. But when he is in the backfield as a quarterback, he needs the officials to see him as they see Tom Brady or Drew Brees and that, in a nutshell, is the problem. The referees cannot possibly see a dude who is six foot five and 250-ish the same way that they see someone like Brees, a smallish player who is doesn't stand even six feet tall.

The NBA has long been guilty of the same thing. Large players can get mugged by smaller players all the time because the little guys look like mosquitoes in their wake. Take DeAndre Jordan he's dealing with that treatment currently, which, when coupled with his awesomely bad free throw shooting, makes Clippers games a nightmare slog to watch. Shaquille O'Neal - an absolute monster who just this weekend was inducted into the Hall of Fame - was officiated as if he had just lurched himself loose from the surface of Dr. Frankenstein's slab.

And it's a slippery slope to even begin asking how to fix it. After all, you can't police someone's thought process or how they perceive an action. If you could, MLB strike zones would be consistent and no one would ever get divorced, right? But maybe just maybe - NFL officials focusing on the position a player is playing versus the position it looks like he ought to be playing would be a good place to start.


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