When I was a kid, I never pictured myself hitting a single in the third inning of a mid-June MLB game or catching a three-yard slant in the middle of the second quarter. I imagined myself hitting a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 12th inning of Game 7 of the World Series or catching the game-winning Super Bowl touchdown. Yet somehow, we like to criticize the people who actually get to live out these fantasies.
The main focus of this critique — at least recently, since there aren’t any bat flippers to criticize in the MLB offseason — is Cam Newton. There is a large sect of people who think that Newton is childish, his effervescence is a front and his behavior sets a bad example for children. In other words, they think he’s representative of everything “wrong” with the modern day NFL.
Cam Newton embodies everything fun about the NFL. And in case it gets forgotten under the fact that the NFL is a billion-dollar industry with concussions plaguing the sport, football is, at its heart, a game. As the game moves towards cookie-cutter offenses based on dump-off passes and conservative play calling, Newton exists as an outlier. Besides just being the MVP this season, Newton was also the most exciting player in the league. He’s the Steph Curry of the NFL — a cultural phenomenon, the most beloved player among kids, up there as the best currently playing and appointment viewing whenever he’s in action.
The newest “transgression” Newton has on his record is his bailing out of his postgame press conference after losing the Super Bowl. He showed up, gave a statement, tersely answered a few questions and then suddenly left. Many – particularly in the media – took great offense to this, saying that it’s just another example of how fake he is and that he can’t reject the spotlight once things aren’t going well for him.
While there is some validity to this, that’s not the whole story. In watching the video, you can see Newton’s thousand-yard stare, his eyes never leaving the back wall of the room. And while his answers to the questions weren’t in depth, they were more than “we’re on to Cincinnati.” Some of the questions he was asked looked for game analysis, while most were variations on “how do you feel?” and “what went wrong?,” which were clearly not something he was interested in talking about. Should he have conducted himself better? Yes, and he’s already answered more questions since. But using one press conference — one that followed a loss in the biggest game of his life and receiving questions that only reminded him of his failure — as confirmation that Newton is no better than a petulant child, is honestly kind of insulting. He is simply a man who is highly emotional and possibly left the press conference to avoid doing anything he would regret.
Forgotten in this whirlpool of “Cam isn’t a man” hot takes are the pictures of Newton congratulating Peyton Manning on possibly ending his career with a Super Bowl win, where he is all smiles. “Cam couldn’t have been nicer to me,” said Manning. “He was extremely humble.” This stands in contrast to Manning’s actions following Super Bowl XLIV where, following his loss, he stormed off the field without shaking a single player’s hand.
I’ll admit my bias here: I love everything about Cam Newton. Despite how his story is often spun, he is a constant positive presence both on the field and in the community. No one in the NFL smiles more than Newton, on the field and off. He goes out of his way to give a ball to a kid in the stands after every touchdown and is a fixture at area hospitals as well.
There is something inherently wrong when people decry someone having fun while playing a sport as “damaging to the game.” Why get mad after someone celebrates after scoring a touchdown? For some reason, we’ve taken to making sports into a wholly serious matter, but it’s so much more fun when players are allowed to let loose and celebrate freely. This “outrage” is just the old guard trying to hold onto their sport, while the new generation embraces the intrinsic joy of playing a sport and doing it well. Give me more Cam Newtons. I’ll take the boundless fun along with the trumped-up negativity over “play the game the right way” players any day.