The spotlight loves Cam Newton. Since his days in the SEC when he first exploded onto the sports media radar, Newton has made perhaps just as many headlines with his rash comments, outlandish statements, and end-zone shenanigans as he has with his athletic prowess and dominating statistics. Like many great athletes, the sensationalization of Newton in the media has rewarded him with much more than just airtime–it has also rewarded him with enemies. Football fans who rolled their eyes at his cocky nature, who called him a drama queen because of his refusal to speak to the media immediately after games, whose automatic response to his name was “Ew, I hate Cam Newton, he’s SOOOO annoying” amassed by the thousands.
And I used to be one of them.
But now …and, more importantly, I have a very important phrase to take into consideration–which, frankly, contributed to my change of heart about Newton: the Carolina Panthers, led by Newton, are going to the Super Bowl.
Analyzing Newton’s stats is easy–you can read them all, but I’ll make it simple for you: he might be the most valuable player in the National Football League this season. And he is going to the Super Bowl. He has a chance at winning a national title. And, after processing these facts, I have begun to wonder if Newton’s cocky persona hasn’t created a wave of self-fulfilling prophecy that he and his teammates will ride all the way to Disneyland.
Let’s face it: most of us don’t like Cam Newton because he’s cocky. But what even is cocky? The official definition according to Google is “conceited or arrogant, especially in a bold or impudent way.”
Listening to Newton talk ostensibly provokes these accusations–especially when he claims nonchalantly that “so much of his talents have not been seen in one person,” that “nobody has the size, nobody has the speed, nobody has the arm strength” as he did in this interview on a Charlotte radio station preceding this season.
But when the expectations Newton claims he will set are true, who’s to say that his arrogance isn’t just confidence? What’s wrong with speaking clearly, confidently, boldly? At this point, Cam Newton’s statements can’t even be called outlandish because they are backed by statistical evidence.
In other words, when it comes to his own athletic prowess, Newton just so happens to be speaking the truth.
Perhaps the line between cocky and confident is drawn by the same pens that record results.
Another criticism of Newton is that he is obnoxious, and that he leads his team in an unsportsman-like way. The Panthers lit up the Arizona Cardinals in this weekend’s NFC championship–and, in the fashion they have been sporting all season, scored relentlessly and excessively, and served every touchdown with a side of ecstatic celebration that many fans deemed unnecessary and overly-flashy.
But if the Panthers had relented, entered second and third strings and half-assed the majority of the game, the Super Bowl-bound team would have lost momentum, valuable practice time on the game clock, and possibly the respect of many sports fans who believe that players should actually play no matter what the score.
Professional sports needs more players like Cam Newton–more players who resist being beaten into the confines of a socially-acceptable bubble. The sports world needs role models who aren’t afraid to compliment themselves, be comfortable in their own skin and speak their minds. After all, the media seems to agree with Newton’s self-adoration. He is an incredibly talented athlete. He deserves to Dabb. And band-aids do not, in fact, soothe hurt feelings.
Ostensibly, so much more goes into Newton’s hitherto successes than just his own personal belief that he and his teammates will succeed–I don’t want to downplay the incredible hard work he and his compatriots have put in this season. But maybe he’s got something there in his outward optimism, in the upbeat atmosphere he creates for his locker room, in his deep-seeded comfort in his own skin. After all, nerves have been proven to adversely affect athletic performance. Excitement and faith may be just what the Panthers need right now.
If Newton loses the Super Bowl, a short bout of inward reflection and humility would undoubtedly do his image and his future some good–but for right now, the energy he is creating through his personality is palpable, contagious, and exciting.
And that “over”-confidence might just be the secret ingredient to attaining that ever-elusive Lombardi trophy.