Cam Newton has been one of the defining sports figures of the past decade. He won the 2010 Heisman Trophy while leading Auburn to the national title. He won the 2015 NFL MVP award while leading the Carolina Panthers to a spot in the Super Bowl. He was honored, criticized, interrogated and released. In June, he signed with the New England Patriots.
In the past year, The RingerTyler R. Tynes spoke to coaches, teammates, friends, family members, journalists and even Newton himself about the life and career of QB. The Cam Chronicles, a series of narrative podcasts, will be presented on July 13.
“I try to teach children this: you know, football is like life and you get knocked down. You have to get up no matter how many times you are knocked down. You’ll have to get up.
I met Dallas Allen, the high school coach of Cam Newton, in downtown Atlanta in January. For almost an hour, Allen went through his memories of the skinny kid at Westlake High School who became an NFL superstar. So many people I have spoken to who know Cam have somehow suggested that it is aimed at the level of prestige it has acquired over the past decade in professional football .
Cam’s charm, and a propensity for mischief, were exposed as a student at Westlake, when he bounced in the corridors between lessons, sometimes skipping periods for trips to Waffle House and jumping on tables during periods of lunch to delight an entire hall of high school students. His talent was evident on the Westlake training ground, when he pulled gravity-defying stunts or let go of his cannon arm which brought the coaches out of sight. But those are the mistakes Cam made in his life that Allen and I discuss this cold night, and the lessons he learned from his teenage years so far as a 31-year-old father.
When Cam played for Westlake, Allen told him what he said to all of his players when they felt they couldn’t go anymore, when they were ready to give up: After the fall is the most difficult. “You can’t wonder why you were knocked down,” he said. “You can only think about what you have to do to be better. Cam has gone up and down throughout his career. It illustrates the parable of Allen. Cam “actually had a lot of bumps and bruises,” said Allen.
“But hey, it will always be Cam Newton. “
The same week, I attended a church service in Newnan, Georgia, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta. Allen’s Gospel on Cam lives on in this church. Cam’s father and church pastor Cecil Newton told me that his son is not an “ordinary guy”. Cam took his first steps in the church, under the watchful eye of his charismatic and colorful father. Clues to Cam’s personality become clear when you speak with the head of the Newton household. I had spent the last few days with the Newtonians watching Cam train a 7v7 football clinic at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. Later, I attended a fiery Sunday service at Cecil’s church and had brunch with the congregation organized by Cecil’s personal leader. Cecil told me it was Cam’s real life, away from football, away from the cameras. It was the Cam Newton that people don’t see.
“He’s a private person,” said Cecil. “It is not so hypersensitive whether you like it or not.” He is comfortable in his own skin. I’m glad it was like that, because if it weren’t, you know, it probably would have gone way before now. “
Part of the intrigue of a figure like Cam is his refusal to bow, his resistance to conforming to a widely accepted ideal of who he is supposed to be. As he got older, he spoke to the press less frequently – his public statements often come in the form of broken sentences or quotes, in passages and metaphors posted on social media. It is not easy to understand. When I spoke to him briefly in Atlanta, he did not want to get into the controversies, misunderstandings and transgressions of his career.
“I’m in a position now, man, where I’m comfortable in my own skin,” he told me. “I am not trying to be nothing that I am not. And that suits me. And often it rubs people the wrong way. He said he wanted to embrace the things that made him a fiery brand in professional football. “I always try to push the pendulum, whatever it is. And the fact that, you know, I’m here without influence. I want to make sure that, you know, I plan to be unique, to be yourself and to be, you know, true to who you are and where you come from too. “
He stressed that his reflections on his life and career are part of his growth as a father.
” I make mistakes. I made mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes. But at the same time, I don’t want these errors to be constant. You know, I want to live and I have children. I want to be able to teach them right from wrong and know what to expect. And, you know, I’m not claiming to be something that I am not. And I know who I am and I know what I’m trying to be. “
I asked him if he had any regrets.
” Why? Asked Cam. He looked at his son, Chosen, who was playing with a rainbow ball in the distance. This is the focus of Cam’s life: as a father, part-time pastor in his father’s church, aid worker and quarterback preparing for what could be his last act in football. He looked at me with an ironic smile.
“I’m true to who I am, dude,” Cam said before walking away. “And I don’t bite my tongue for anyone. Everyone knows how I rock and roll. And I’m just more comfortable that way. “
Poet Claudia Rankine wrote in 2018 that Cam Newton was “angry with America” because he occupied a space that “white Americans consider the work of a white man.” She describes him as “a young man who grows in the American public while being extraordinary and ordinary and disappointing and magnificent and resilient at the same time”. She concluded that “Cam Newton is basically like us, America. “
Cam’s entire football career has focused on the types of contradictions described by Rankine. Cam Newton’s simple idea ignites certain conservative segments of the football fan base, which have prevailed in the sport throughout its history. It is not a shrinking purple, but rather a brash black quarterback that thrives when it delights in its difference. His iconic stature is both unmatched and confusing in the same breath. He is the vanguard of the current young class of black quarters, although he has been considered an irritant for much of his career.
For much of the past decade, Cam has been the black quarterback of the day. He danced like we did, laughed like us, participated in all the avenues of a black culture so often denied in the dominant American culture, unless it is pimp and parodied to the taste of someone one another. We have had a lot of problems with Cam during his career, but one thing seems obvious to me: he is a self-proclaimed “Superman”, but his superpower was never his muscles, his stature, his skills or his speed. Cam’s beauty was his dissidence as a talent as a generational quarterback. His status in the NFL and his disregard for the standards associated with his position made him a foot protest every time he walked on the field. It’s more of a superpower than anything he’s ever used. With hindsight, it seems extremely unfair that he had to fight this idea. If you need Cam to fit a certain profile, it doesn’t have to do with Cam, it has to do with us. Our sensitivities. Our bias. The very idea of being a black quarterback is still provocative for the white audience and fans, which Cam has recognized in the past.
I’m not sure how much Cam deserves for the style of attack that has become so prevalent in the NFL, but he is the vanguard of today’s young class of black quarters. Would we still have seen the rise of Lamar Jackson, or the ability of Pat Mahomes, or the tactical spirit of Deshaun Watson without the barbed wire that Newton went through from the moment he entered the NFL?
It’s unclear what we can expect from Cam as the second act of his career approaches, which, interestingly, will take place with the New England Patriots. The injuries have taken their toll. There have been moments this offseason when I wondered if he would be on an NFL list this season. Cam has been clear about his priorities at this point in his life and career: he wants to play football, be a good father and a good son, and remain a devoted servant of his faith. He wants to be a cultural precursor in a profession and in a position that has rarely asked for it.
One of Cam’s former coaches told me, “Cam is like one of those bouncing balls that you get from a quarter machine outside a grocery store. When it falls, it bounces higher than the drop suggests. All of this can be seen in what Cam has given us throughout his career. He turns the mundane into motivation: the evangelical hymns he howls in his basement of Hezekiah Walker; his hellish training sessions which he broadcasts on the Internet; his flamboyant attitude, his flair and his fashion which serve as eddies in high definition to anyone who dares to challenge the way he runs his business. In many ways, it serves as an endless delight. Football is better with Cam Newton.
“I had so many people who didn’t know I knew Cam. They were like, ‘Oh, it’s so wrong. The smile is wrong. They think he’s so arrogant. He does this and that, “said Shaun Rutherford, a Cam’s teammate at Blinn Junior College. “Just knowing him, the guy broke his ass for everything he had.” “
During the church service in Newnan, Cecil called Cam to the altar to speak to the congregation. Cam walked to the altar with a tweed overcoat and matching vest while his children and mother Jackie watched from the front row.
“This whole year has been on my heart,” Cam told the congregation. “I want God to use me. It was my prayer for me, ”he said. He seemed at peace and, at that moment, it appeared clearer than I had ever seen him. He ended his sermon with a proverb, a memo for his life and a message to those before him. This explained his dedication to his profession, his refusal to be humble and his incessant dependence on betting on himself.
“Faith,” says Cam, “without work, is dead. “