By Alex Frandsen, Sports Columnist
Cam Newton is one of the most divisive athletes in the country, and it makes zero sense.
Week after week this season, he threw, ran and dabbed his way to more touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL – 45 to be exact – and led his Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, where he will play next week.
Yet after every week (and win), it seemed like there was some story or hot take on Monday decrying his celebrations, his swagger, his general way of playing. Columnists took him on for not “respecting the game.” A letter to the editor in The Charlotte Observer circulated around Twitter and Facebook, written by a mom who scolded Newton for his “arrogant strut” and “pelvic thrusts” after a touchdown.
But here is the truth: we need more pelvic thrusts, not less. We need more Cam Newtons, and we need to embrace athletes like him instead of lamenting that he “doesn’t play the game the right way,” a silly phrase that is the verbal equivalent of a stick up the butt. We are lucky to have Cam, even if our overly-serious fan population does not deserve him.
The culture surrounding star athletes today, especially quarterbacks, dictates that they should maneuver
their high-profile position efficiently, robotically and as non-offensively as possible. That’s why Boston idolizes Tom Brady, who seems to filter his every possible action to promote his own manufactured image. It is also why the recently retired Derek Jeter is one of the most widely-liked players in history, despite the fact that he could have been replaced by a very handsome cyborg without anyone really noticing. A celebrity athlete is supposed to be vanilla and predictable. So when we get someone like Cam Newton, who is definitively none of those things, we freak out.
That is the wrong reaction. Think back to when you first fell in love with sports, way before you first yelled at the
TV after a missed call, and way before you spent hundreds of hours researching for fantasy football only to finish in sixth place. Most likely, you fell in love the first time you pulled off a spin move in backyard football, punking your friend in the process. You fell in love with the rollicking liberation of being outside with people you like, doing something fun. Really, that’s all Cam Newton is – the kid from the backyard, leaping for the end zone and smiling while he does it. He is still the kid who whips out the dance moves, not to rub it in, but because that is the most appropriate way to cap off doing something insanely fun. The only difference between your 7-year-old self and Cam Newton is that he is blessed with enough talent and perseverance to do it for a living.
Sports writers and TV personalities have always talked about “playing the game the right way.” Coaches always harp on it too, and it essentially means keeping your head down and your emotions in check. But I think we have gotten that phrase wrong the whole time. Playing the game the right way should mean playing well, having fun and not being afraid to let people know that you’re enjoying yourself without being a complete jerk about it. It should mean playing in a way that captivates the fans and reflects the light-hearted truth that sports are, in the end, just a game. “Playing the game the right way” should mean playing it like Cam Newton.
Alexander can be reached at sports@HuntNewsNu.com.