Stay home. Self quarantine. Keep a safe distance. Isolate yourself from your community.
The Carolina Panthers front office seems to have adopted the measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 as the organization’s new guiding principles.
While I’m keenly aware there are more important things happening in the world right now than professional football, the Carolina Panthers are still an important part of my life. I’m a man entering his middle-age years with a wife, three kids, and a busy job. Like many of you I live a life that at any given time is a wonderfully complex mixture of joy, anxiety, accomplishment, self doubt, contentment, regret, hope, and love. I have to actively choose where I spend my limited free time. Since moving to North Carolina in 2003 I have actively chosen to invest a decent amount of that precious personal capital in the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers recent roster turnover and the way the organization is reportedly treating players like Cam Newton and Greg Olsen is making it hard for me care about this team to the degree that I normally do. This is just my opinion and it’s okay if you disagree with me, but when I look at Carolina’s current roster the question that comes to my mind is this:
Why should I care about this team?
Reducing sports fandom to the lowest common denominator of “you’re just rooting for a jersey” is shallow and wrong on so many levels. Yes, as fans we root for a team, but there’s a big difference between dutiful cheering and passionately caring. Our passion and personal investment as fans comes when we truly start caring about the guys wearing the jerseys. For 14 years I pulled for Thomas Davis and marveled at his resilience in overcoming his plethora of injuries. For 12 years I watched different quarterbacks place their hands under Ryan Kalil’s backside, and he delighted me when he took out an ad in the Charlotte Observer explaining why the Panthers would win Super Bowl XLVII. For the last nine years Cam Newton has amazed me with some of the most spectacular and exciting dual-threat quarterback play in the history of the league. For eight years I watched Luke Kuechly establish himself as the best linebacker in the league with the potential to become one of the best at his position in NFL history. Over the last eight years I felt proud of Mario Addison as he worked at his craft and developed from a fringe player into one of the most consistent sack artists in the league.
I feel a sense of gratitude to these long-term Panthers for giving me the joy that came in 2015 when they went 15-1, reached the Super Bowl, and had Cam Newton crowned as the NFL’s MVP. While the Super Bowl loss is still a bitter pill, how many NFL fans have ever had a more exhilarating five-month stretch than we had with this core group of players?
We become truly passionate as fans when we spend the better part of a decade experiencing both the joys and agonies of sports with the same core of good players who are good guys and who give us good football. Guys like Cam, Luke, Olsen, Kalil, and even less heralded players like Super Mario.
Now, I know rebuilds are tough. We can’t fault the front office for Luke’s retirement and the rest of the players I’ve named are on the wrong side of 30 playing for a team with zero playoff wins over the last four years. I get it. But as Carolina’s front office continues to gut the roster of veteran players, I feel like I’m being gutted a bit too.
I don’t have anything against Teddy Bridgewater, but I also don’t have any connection to him yet. Same goes for Russell Okung, Stephen Weatherly, Justin Burris, Seth Roberts, and John Miller. I doubt there will be any marquee signings to come given the Panthers rebuild and relatively tight cap situation.
Scroll through the Panthers current roster and mentally subtract Cam Newton (who will surely be gone) and Luke Kuechly (who is gone). Ask yourself how many of the remaining players you feel bonded to and are genuinely excited to see take the field next year. DJ Moore and Brian Burns are young and exciting but I haven’t had any truly meaningful moments in big games with either them. Efe Obada is an incredible story, but he’s not an impact player. Kawann Short is fantastic, but we only saw him in two games last year and it’s hard for a defensive tackle to have a ton of signature moments. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if KK gets traded, either.
For me that only leaves Christian McCaffrey who I’m genuinely excited to watch next year, and even then I’m afraid he’s going to get ground into the dust behind a makeshift offensive line, new quarterback, and new offensive system.
The opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
For the first time in a long time I feel indifferent toward my Carolina Panthers.
And it’s a feeling I don’t like at all.