There's no doubt in my mind that the positive, complementary title of this editorial will make some people livid. Cam has become, in the words of recent media reports, a "polarizing figure," and to compliment him is akin to pouring boiling oil in the ears of his detractors. It's been suggested that there is likely nothing that can be said or done to alter these people's negative conceptions of Cam. They just don't like him.
Perhaps it's his celebrations. Perhaps it's how he makes the difficult look easy. Perhaps it's his race, which has been alluded to in numerous reports and was recently mentioned by Cam and ex-Panthers receiver, Steve Smith. I don't presume to know what is in the mind of those who so strongly distain Newton, nor do I presume to know what Cam is thinking and feeling or what he will be like in the future. I’ve never met the flesh and blood Cam Newton, nor have I ever talked with him; all I have to go on is what I see and hear, and I am regularly impressed by the man I witness on the field, in the interviews, and among others in the community.
What I am most impressed by, though, is the fact that Cam, like all great people who have ever walked this earth, has become more than his job. He's become a role model by embracing some very easy-to-understand but often hard-to-typify traits.
He's True to Himself
Self-reliance and self-trust are often lauded but rarely practiced. We all like to say we couldn’t care less what others think, but many of us rarely embrace this. We cater to what friends, family members, bosses, and, occasionally, strangers expect or request of us.
As an American literature professor, I regularly teach essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man who was certainly a polarizing figure in the 19th-century but who is now recognized as one of the great American thinkers and one of the most outspoken proponents of being yourself. In his essay, "Self-Reliance," Emerson admits, "What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think."
Like Emerson, Cam has regularly asserted that he doesn’t care what his critics have to say. He’s going to be himself. Some people might see this as arrogant, but unlike many of us, Cam has already realized that in order to be the person he wants to be, he has to regularly tune out those detractors and critics who don’t really understand him.
Unfortunately though, there are many people who aren’t content to simply have negative opinions about others. They feel the need to fashion their opinions into weapons. Emerson warns us against these people when he says that "For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure." That is exactly what has happened to Cam. He is regularly tied to the whipping post for comments and actions that many see as contrary to the way football should be (or has always been) played.
Cam recently claimed in an interview that those who hate him might do so because he’s "an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare [him] to." This is a remarkably astute claim. It’s sad that some listeners have not really heard what he said and instead only pick out the grammatical misstep. Had they tried to understand Cam, they might have realized he, like Emerson, recognizes what many people fear is non-conformity.
Essentially, we don’t like those who see the world differently or who act in ways that are different from the norm--whether that norm is racially biased or based on the assumption that a person should act the way those who are in the same position act or have acted in the past. I think anyone familiar with American history and football history will readily admit it’s probably both.
Regardless, it seems completely unfair, especially in the context of his press meeting, to claim that Cam was simply "playing the race card." Instead, it seems he was trying to say that some people are scared of non-conformists because they have nothing to compare those folks to. We seem to have a penchant for belittling those people who don’t conform to what has always been done or what we believe ought to be done.
Yet, interestingly enough, many of the people we shun in one generation are celebrated in the next. Regardless, like all great people, Cam doesn’t allow the detractors to dictate his actions. He remains true to who he is and who he wants to be, which offers valuable inspiration for us all.
He Cares for Others
Like the previous trait, caring for others is easier to say than to do. After all, I can say I care about someone or a group of people, but if I don’t show I care with actions, then my words are fairly empty. Many people cite his handing out footballs as proof of his generosity and caring nature. I love this practice, and I can see this becoming a league norm for all teams in the future.
Still, I don’t think this really shows how much Cam really cares for others. After all, anyone can hand a kid a ball. But when Cam goes out of his way to include a sick child in team activities, visit a dying child’s last birthday party, and provide guidance and support to young athletes, he is doing what many of us ought to be doing. And we know it when we watch him.
Some of us might even feel admonishment, knowing that we could be doing much more than we are. After all, what Cam is doing isn’t a product of his wealth or popularity. It’s not restricted to those who have the money he makes. Every one of us can see a person in need and then help that person.
Sadly, most of us don’t on a regular basis. I often wonder how many of his detractors spend the time/effort Cam does giving back to others. I read a quote not long ago that was attributed to Mother Teresa which says "When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed."
When I look at Cam’s actions, and even the actions of many of the men in the Panthers’ locker room, I see the antithesis of her simple rebuke. Standup men like Cam have have not only shown how easy it is to help others but also have inspired many of us to reevaluate our own service to others and, hopefully, do more to help others when we can.
Let’s face it, unless they’re competing against your team, it’s fun to watch the Panthers play. Cam runs around the stadium like a teen boy whose crush just said "yes" to a prom invitation. He loves what he does, and it shows. He looks happy when he is throwing the ball. He looks happy when he’s running it. He regularly celebrates his teammates’ successes on both sides of the ball, and he obviously loves the simple act of handing out touchdown balls to kids.
And here’s where it get’s interesting and admirable. Handing out the balls after each touchdown makes those recipients elated, and it also makes all the adults who are watching happy--and even a little satisfied. For that small moment, the world seems simpler and more just. When he dashes around the stadium pointing at the fans and dabbin’ on first downs, we see and get to share in his joy. We become part of the celebration and even look forward to it.
There are very few players in NFL history who have shown this level of happiness, and it’s contagious. It infects his teammates and the fans. I’m often puzzled by those who make claims like "Act like you’ve been there before" about football celebrations. I don’t know who practices this philosophy in their own lives. How miserable these people must be. We should be comfortable and confident enough to celebrate all our victories--no matter how small or large.
If I am a student and make an A on a paper, then should I not have joy the next time I make an A because I’ve "been there before"? Should I not celebrate the birth of my third child because I’ve "been there before"? As a football fan, should I not celebrate in the stands when my team scores because they’ve "been there before"? For some odd reason, many of the folks who adamantly cheer on their teams--often to the discontent of the fans adjacent to them--are the ones who critique Cam for having fun during the same game they’ve attended or watched for entertainment.
Ultimately, Cam gets it. He’s an entertainer. Most great athletes are, but Cam takes it to another level because he loves what he does, shares his happiness with the team and with the fans, and reminds us all that when you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (or at least dab on dem folks).