Cam Newton is one of a kind. Why try to make him someone he’s not?
Two commercials — one light-hearted and one dark — have served to define the post-Super Bowl career of one Cameron Jerrell Newton.
One of those commercials aired after Newton and the Carolina Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos. In the commercial, Cam darts through a dark forest, with an ominous voiceover provided by his mother, Jackie:
All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies, and whenever they catch you. … But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks. …Prince with a thousand enemies, never be destroyed.
In the aftermath of a 20-14 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, Newton has a lot of enemies, both intentional and unintentional. Newton has always been prone to high throws, but with an ailing shoulder and foot, his misfires have been painful to watch. Even more pressing is the Panthers’ playcalling, which not only led to 51 passing attempts from Newton, but also went 0-for-3 on fourth down sans the quarterback sneak.
The last failed fourth-down conversion was the most costly. On fourth-and-1 from the three-yard line, Panthers’ running back/scatback Christian McCaffrey caught a direct snap moving to the left, but was pushed out of bounds short of the line to gain. In years past, the call would have been for No. 1.
The plan was simple enough, maybe even justified, considering Cam’s injuries. But with a Tampa defense keyed in on CMC, the call should have been clear. That’s not Monday (or Friday) morning quarterbacking. It’s a flat indictment of a franchise where brass has repeatedly expressed the desire for Newton to become more of a pocket passer, even though it has failed to give Cam the tools to do so.
That brings us to the second commercial.
The NFL Play60 spot aired early in Cam’s sophomore season, and it featured Newton and a young kid. Cam’s playfulness and spirited nature toward children is, in all honesty, one of the hallmarks of his career. In the commercial, the boy thanks Cam for coming to his school, and after playful small talk, the following exchange happens:
Kid: Then I’ll grow up to be big and strong, like you?
Kid: And play in the NFL?
Cam: Yes sir!
Kid: And be drafted number one?
Kid: And become the starting quarterback of the Panthers?
Kid: And you can be my back-up?
Cam: Excuse me?
Kid: And make Panthers’ fans forget about you?
Kid: And become your mom’s favorite player?
Then, the kid does a windmill motion with his arm, as if he’s warming up:
“I’m just loosening up my arm.”
The commercial warrants a laugh, even if, in hindsight (or foresight), for the initiated, the racial dynamics could not be overlooked. A Black quarterback being challenge by a hotshot white kid? That hasn’t been a speculative or imagined process for Cam. It’s been his reality.
At one point, Derek Anderson was the “great white hope” to replace Newton. Last season, when Newton was shut down for the year, Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen were the hopefuls. This year, it’s West Virginia product Will Grier.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed quarterback supplanting the flashy Black quarterback has been a wet dream for a significant number of (white) Panthers fans, and quite possibly, the local newspaper, the Charlotte Observer. Panthers fan pages, where differences of opinion break down along racial lines, suggests as much. The Observer, for its part, ran an editorial cartoon of Newton doing his famed “Superman” pose with a Hello Kitty shirt underneath.
Even during his MVP season, fans didn’t know how to deal with Cam and his relentless dabbing. He suggested as much when he declared that he was an “African-American quarterback.”
“…That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to,” he proudly said.
It was fitting that Cam would make such a commentary at the height of his powers. He was being true to his defiant, nonconforming self. Lest we forget, the “prince of a thousand enemies” proudly dresses like Prince Rogers Nelson. His apparel and demeanor were a lightning rod for criticism long before injuries dulled his play.
Cam’s coaches at Auburn let him be “Ace Boogie.” They were rewarded with a championship, and a comeback for the ages against rival Alabama. And if you go back and look at that comeback, Cam threw some absolute ropes. It’s almost as if the ability to freelance — his unpredictability to go along with his abilities — makes him a better passer and player overall.
Sure, Cam has his faults. He’s pouty. He can be flippant. But to quote CMC, he’s a “warrior.” When asked to judge Cam’s performance against the Rams last week, McCaffrey said “that’s not my job.” He then reinforced his belief in his quarterback and how he “puts it on the line” for the Panthers.
Newton threw for over 4,000 yards as a rookie — with two competent tight ends, one might add. Cam’s never had a problem being a competent passer, even with high throws. The problem has been reliable targets downfield, and a competent offensive line — both keys to any successful pocket passer.
It’s almost as if the “pocket passer” talk was more about conformity than actual production. And if that’s the case, then the Carolina Panthers franchise has been Cam’s biggest enemy all along. That’s entirely feasible, considering that it was the Panthers’ franchise who linked Cam up with a Republican strategist after the Super Bowl loss as a public relations strategy. Cam’s commentary on race changed as well, to his detriment. The franchise’s willingness to put Cam in a box, both professionally and personally, has given us a player who is a shell of himself.
Here’s hoping that the open road at the end of that fated Under Armour commercial isn’t the end of the road for Cam. The way that the Panthers continue to use Newton — both on and off the field — almost seems to make that end an inevitable and expedient one.