Cam Newton, or if you address him by his birth name, "Cameron Jerrell Newton" is a quarterback for the Carolina Panthers American football team in the NFC South division of the NFL.
He is also crazily good.
Some guys are good at that position because of their ability to be a "general" of sorts. Drew Brees is one who is known for methodically carving up defenses, Tom Brady is a skilled player who is the personification of cool under pressure. Aaron Rogers is probably one of the few quarterbacks who is more accurate and sniperlike with his throws than Brees. Cam is a damn good all around player. He's rather good at creating plays out of nothing, thinking nothing of simply escaping tackling players and running down the field if nobody is open - making opposing defenses have to deal with the possibility of the quarterback acting like another running back.
He was born in 1989 and grew up in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Excelling at football and becoming a top recruiting prospect in high school, he was drafted first by the Florida Gators, winning the backup role to Tim Tebow in his freshman year. He was doing alright in Florida until an arrest for stealing someone's laptop (a crime he tried to hide by tossing it out the window as police arrived) and some academic irregularities caused him to be... removed. A second chance at Binn College in Tennessee (as well as being considered a five star recruit) meant he was given the opportunity to transfer to university powerhouse Auburn University.
In his first year there he broke Auburn's record for longest touchdown pass, for 94 yards. And Auburn is no slouch in terms of talent, either. He was the first SEC player to throw for over 2000 yards and rush for 1000 yards in a single season.
Needless to say when he became available for the NFL draft, not only did his resume speak for itself, but the records and Heisman trophy spoke volumes. Drafted in the first round by the Panthers, he broke many NFL records in his first year. In his first game for the Panthers he broke two records alone - Payton Manning's throwing for 400 yards in a first NFL game, and broke a 65 year record for passing yards in an NFL debut. First quarterback in history to throw for 4000 yards in a rookie season, ran 14 touchdowns in his first year, another record. Rookie of the year, he's also been a Pro Bowler and was named four years into his professional career to the All-Pro first team.
Did I mention the handsome, six foot five Newton is talented as well as genetically gifted? He's one of the few players to finally get it through the skull of racist idiots that people of color can play quarterback competently, not just the unskilled, smashing meat bits together positions.
But he still manages to get under the skin of some people and become a polarizing figure. Not only to the few reprobates who believe that people of color don't belong in the really high paid positions that should be left to the children of privilege like Johnny Manziel but to people who generally just don't like the guy's on-field and off-field attitude.
When Cam's winning, his million dollar smile lights up his side of the field. Rather smugly, I might add. He's animated on the sideline, mean-mugging and generally doing the kind of passive-aggressive "I'm enjoying, because I'm winning" type of sportsmanship that people characterize as a "sore winner". He'll dab, he'll do the Superman, he'll swagger. And people ate it up, especially in Charlotte. There's something in his smile when he famously mocked the Green Bay Packers, caught on camera and mic'd up as he lined up for what was to be a touchdown play. "Oh, you've been watching film I see. Well, watch this."
But when he's losing? You'll see him scowling on the sidelines, sitting on a bench with a towel over his head, blocking out the outside world. He'll walk out on press conferences. Throwing things, crying.
If he's thought of as an insufferable "sore winner", dear Lord you should see what the same people think of him as a sore loser.
In 2015 Newton brought the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. They had never won the Lombardi trophy, so it was an especially big deal. The New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Buccaneers had won previously - so if the Panthers won that game they'd have left the Atlanta Falcons as the only losers in the NFC South division who'd never won the big prize (the Falcons have been to the Super Bowl twice and lost both times).
The pressure of that game was obvious, at the beginning of the game Cam looked uncharacteristically nervous and not quite himself, and crossed himself anxiously as the game was about to kick off. As the game went on, he also uncharacteristically stood and stared at a nearby fumbled ball on a crucial play rather than falling on it which his detractors have never let him forget. When he should have acted instinctively with killer instinct, he hesitated, and the opposing team got the ball (and eventually won).
What followed was a particularly awkward moment for Newton. He appeared in a Panthers hoodie to the post-game press conference like a monk's cowl, scowling and petulant, before simply walking out. To be fair, they had booked the conference in the same room as the winners jubilantly bragging to other journalists within earshot as he was trying to speak. He got a lot of bad publicity for this, and his coach quietly took him aside and let him know that most people expect you to lose with a degree of grace and good sportsmanship.
But it fed into a particularly nasty and racist narrative. "Sure, a black guy might be able to throw a ball and run with it out of the pocket, we all know (insert the disgusting "they were bred to be better physical specimens" narrative here), etc. etc. etc. but at the end of the day if you want class and breeding, find yourself a white player." The usual rhetoric from the kind of "sports fan" who looks over his shoulder before conspiratorially sharing it with other bar-goers in a sports bar and eventually says it to the wrong person and ends up knocked out and barred from the establishment in question and rightly so, good riddance.
And while we're on the subject of racism, and we are - it exposed a particularly nasty double standard.
A white basketball coach hurling chairs at court side in a basketball tournament like a toddler who's just had his Teletubbies turned off because it's time for bed is an oft-repeated trope. Not a single solitary person thinks there's anything wrong with that. Nor with the kind of white, douche-bro frat boy jock "suck it" pose when winning at something.
Peyton Manning famously stormed off the field after losing to the New Orleans Saints in their Super Bowl appearance, and the Saints themselves walked off in the 2017 season and did not return after losing to the Minnesota Vikings in the infamous "Minnesota Miracle", even though they were supposed to in order to be present for the point after attempt. Nobody accused white-bread, dad-jeans wearing white dorkish looking Drew Brees of being a poor sport. To be fair, some people pointed out that this wasn't really on, and some people tore Sean Payton (the coach of the Saints) a new asshole for taunting fans with their "Skol" chant just before the 11th hour and 59th second reversal of fortune of that game. But there wasn't the same emphasis, the same "English", the sort of to-the-bone being rubbed the wrong way in these complaints as were levelled against Newton. And many believe, as do I, that they don't like him when he wins or when he loses because of it reinforcing racist ideas about how people of color should think, act and behave. Just as how a black woman can't get angry without society eye-rolling about the "angry black woman" trope, if you're smug at winning or you're pissed off at losing it's because, well, they're not going to come out and say it publicly, but... you know.... right?
If you think about it - we generally don't expect any professional athlete to be cavalier about losing and in fact consider any professional player who doesn't care about winning to be one who shouldn't be drawing a paycheck for playing on a team. And if you want to see insufferable pricks on full-on win mode, check out blue collar whitefolks in Philly when the Eagles win. Or people in Boston when the Patriots win. But that's different, because reasons, amirite?
Cam's got every goddamn right to be pissed off that the brass ring was yanked from him. He could have very easily decided to act like other quarterbacks and simply throw away the ball if nobody was open, but he has chosen many a time to run with the ball, putting himself at risk. In the rules, if you're holding the ball you're fair game to be bulldozed by a 400lb tank in pads and if you break your collarbone in the process or turn your frontal cortex to mush, so be it. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are playing into their 40s, as has Peyton Manning. He'll be lucky if he's still playing in his 30s the way the repeated impacts to his body are carrying on. And it's not as though the results of playing the way he plays will heal themselves completely once he decides to hang up the pads, either.
In the final game of the 2017 season, in which the New Orleans Saints put their Super Bowl playoffs to bed completely, he was levelled by a brutal hit and impact to his head that made him collapse like a house of cards as he walked off the field. The NFL guidelines say if you lose the ability to walk in a straight line or fall after a head impact, you're done and you need to go back to the locker room to be evaluated and kept off the field for the good of your own brain.
The Panthers handwaved away all this by simply looking at him with their own doctors in a tent on the sidelines and said it was just a momentary eye injury. Eye injury my ass, and the NFL agrees and they're going to see what sanctions to lay on the Panthers. It's a sick joke amongst fans that the NFL would have cleared JFK to give that speech he was planning in Dallas, Texas. But something's going on because Newton has taken all mentions of the Panthers off his Instagram account, in fact he's cleared it entirely. But before doing so, he very famously posted the mug shot of his arrest in Florida as a reminder of what people wanted to remember him as, and what he managed to overcome.
He's accomplished too much and is too good a player to walk away without tasting the pinnacle of his sport's success. The fact that the Falcons refused to trade Tony Gonzalez to a viable team in his last two years, robbing a loyal player of any possible chance of leveraging being one of the greatest of all time at his position into anything other than being a really good journeyman for a middling team is positively criminal. And the Saints did a damn good job of pissing away one of the best talents at the quarterback position of his generation in Brees, though they do get some kind of a pass for taking a chance on him when he tore his arm completely off (internally) in that horrifying injury when he was a member of the San Diego Chargers. And, in fairness, he does have a Superbowl ring.
But if you ever get to read this, Cam (and you probably never will so it's a moot point) swag on. Dab. Superman. Wear that fedora to the press conference and give us that smug game face when the chips are up. Be "sporting" in the classical sense of the word, namely being larger than life. Keep your chin up and be you, post-loss scowl and all. Because for every dickhead that can't stand everything they choose to hate about you, there's those who realize that you've carried that team, you've broken records, and you've run down the field when others would have been too chickenshit to do so. And I'll remind anyone who thinks you're too cowardly to fall on a downed ball, this is a guy that moonsaults into the end zone on occasion. There's people in the Atlanta area who were damn proud to put away their Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons jerseys and represent for the home town boy when you were in the Superbowl and give credit where credit was due when the Panthers were just shy of winning the whole enchilada. I just wish they'd kept some modicum of that respect the following year.
I don't know what Cam's career will be like next year. The Panthers are up for sale, he's tight lipped about why he's deleted any mention of them on his Insta and if I were him I'd be truly pissed off at having been dragged back out against the Saints after having no clue what year it was after that brutal hit.
But God bless him for walking back out on that field, for having the same fortitude that made him rise above his college year stupidity, that made him eclipse one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in his rookie year, and that made all those fans stand and cheer their lungs out when the going was good.
And I hope he can remember it all in his 40s, and walk without a cane. Because by God, watching him move right now is pure poetry, even if he's kicking my favorite team's ass.