Well, maybe he is. Norman is on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s latest issue — which focuses on NFL defenses — and the story by my pal Kevin Van Valkenburg has enough choice Norman moments to create four or five different buzzy Internet headlines. Let’s just look at one notable excerpt.
“Spend any time around Norman and it’s easy to understand how he became one of the NFL’s most interesting, and polarizing, players. Riding in an Uber past the Eiffel Tower and during hours of idle conversation over the next two days, he offers thoughts on everything and everyone, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“Horrible. He’s straight horrible.”), the league’s crackdown on big hits (“What happened to us? Society is so soft.”) and Washington’s nickname (“Redskins is not offensive to me. I’m part Native American on both my mom’s and my dad’s side. It’s kind of a funny thing, though. A redskin playing for the Redskins.”).Now that he’s out of Carolina, he feels even less constrained. The Panthers wanted him to tone down the trash-talk, and he reluctantly complied. But in Washington, there are no such restrictions. Yet. In that sense, this season sets up to be either the next step in Norman’s ascendance or a huge mess. He knows that every comment might open him up to criticism, but he’s not holding back. As he has said: “That’s just not me, man. I’m not fake.”
The story takes readers on a romp through Paris with the two men, but this “not holding back” is a theme, from Norman calling himself “the best cornerback on earth” to saying his move from Carolina to Washington was “like going from a dictatorship to freedom.” And that openness, Van Valkenburg told me, is why the story happened in the first place.
“I wanted to write about Josh because I think he’s interesting, opinionated and unfiltered,” he wrote. “It’s always more fun to write about athletes before they get really famous than it is once they reach the summit. When Carolina and Denver slugged it out in the Super Bowl, we wondered if defense might be making a comeback in the NFL, and I think you can make the case Norman is right there with Von Miller as the best defensive player in the NFL.
“When he mentioned he was going to Paris to watch soccer, I figured it would be a great opportunity to tag along and get him outside the football locker room bubble. Ten minutes into meeting him, he was telling me he couldn’t wait to play Sam Bradford twice a year, and I knew he was going to be a fun interview.”
It was, and it will probably produce more headlines than just this one. Which made me think of something Norman told SiriusXM NFL Radio during his first Washington training camp.
“I get that scrutiny everywhere I go,” he said. “All eyes [are] magnified times 10 now. So everything I do, everything I say, pretty much everything when I line up on the field, everything is always scrutinized. … [I can’t] really worry about what other people say because they’re always going to have their opinions. The only thing that matters is mine.”
He seems to have a lot of those opinions, and he seems anxious to start expressing them. This ESPN the Magazine cover story — which will be on newsstands Friday — is the latest example, but it probably won’t be the last.