Newman attended Geelong Grammar School, where his father was a teacher. He made his debut for Geelong in 1964 when he was 18 years old. Early in his time at Geelong he acquired the nickname "Sam", by which he is now well known.
During his career (1964–80) with Geelong he captained the club and also won two best and fairest awards (1968 and 1975). During the first semi-final against Collingwood in 1967, Newman suffered a serious injury which forced surgeons to remove part of his kidney. He was also selected as an All-Australian player in 1969. He played for the Victorian state team eight times. He retired in 1980, having polled 100 Brownlow Medal votes throughout his career. In 2002, he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
In December 2005, Newman was appointed as ruck coach for the Melbourne Football Club to mentor players such as Jeff White, Mark Jamar and Paul Johnson.
On 6 July 2010, Newman played in a charity match playing for Victoria in the annual EJ Whitten Legends Game. Newman kicked four goals from four kicks and three marks to be named best on ground, despite his team losing to the All Stars by seven points.
Newman joined radio station 3AW as a football commentator in 1981 and continued with the station through until the end of the 1999 season, he also appeared on World of Sport on Channel 7 for seven years from 1981-1987. He was a panel member of The Sunday Footy Show from 1993-1998.
Newman has been on The Footy Show (AFL) since it first aired in 1994 on the Australian Nine Network.
His other media appearances have included the Sunday sports show Any Given Sunday in 2005, World of Sport, The Sunday Footy Show and also co-hosting the short lived Sam and The Fatman with Paul "Fatty" Vautin. On radio station Triple M, Newman previews Friday night and Saturday afternoon matches. He formerly provided special comments during AFL games on Triple M, as well as 3AW previously.
From April 2010, he was a part of the MTR (Melbourne Talk Radio) lineup, providing opinion and participating in talkback between 9.00 am and 9.30 am, during the Steve Price breakfast programme. Newman quit the station in January 2012, after the breakfast producer censored Newman's profanity.
Newman has been involved in several incidents of public controversy. He is considered deliberately controversial. Most notably Newman, Garry Lyon and Channel Nine were sued for defamation. Channel Nine removed Newman from The Footy Show for several weeks.
Sam Newman enjoyed a brief career in motor racing. He began racing in 1998 in Class C of the Australian GT Production Car Championship where he finished in 10th place in a Ford EL Falcon XR8. In the 1999 Australian GT Production Car Championship he raced a Holden Vectra GL to 3rd place in Class D driving for Gibson Motorsport. He then went on to finish in 4th place in Class D at the 1999 Poolrite GTP Bathurst Showroom Showdown driving with Melinda Price. He then drove the Vectra to 5th place in Class E in the 2000 Australian GT Production Car Championship. He also raced a V8 Supercar at the support races at the Australian Grand Prix in the same year. Running a Gibson Motorsport prepared VS Commodore, he finished 25th, 24th and 23rd in the three races across the weekend.
In 2001, Newman raced a Ferrari 360 Challenge for Prancing Horse Racing as teammate to multiple Australian champion (in various categories) and Bathurst 1000 winner John Bowe in the 2001 Australian Nations Cup Championship finishing in 14th place. In the 2002 Championship, Newman acquitted himself well and improved to finish 10th in the series
Newman's brightest moment in motor racing was when he put his Ferrari on pole position for the 2002 Sandown 500. Newman benefited in the Top 10 shootout for pole as he was the first driver on the track. Before the next driver went out the rain came down and Newman ended up over 6 seconds faster than the 2nd placed Porsche 996 GT3 of racing legend Jim Richards. Newman and co-driver Scott Shearman went on to finish the race 6th outright.
Newman defected to Team Lamborghini for the 2003 Australian Nations Cup Championship and driving the V12 Lamborghini Diablo SVR and GTR models improved to finish 7th outright in the championship. He finished the series in 9th place in Group 1 and 3rd place in Group 2.
After leaving motor racing at the end of 2003, Newman would again race in the 2009 and 2010 Mini Challenge Australia championships, both times at the Albert Park round in the Uber Star Celebrity Car.
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Newman lives in Docklands, Melbourne. Newman in 2002 released a compilation album entitled I Do My Best Work After Midnight, consisting of 13 selections from other artists, as well as two songs sung by Newman himself – "Witchcraft" and "I've Got You Under My Skin". In 2008 Newman was treated for prostate cancer, and he allowed Channel Nine's program 60 Minutes to film his operation. Following the operation he was cleared of the cancer.
Newman has 3 children from previous relationships.