By Jamal Murphy
Predictably, there has been a lot of talk about Cam Newton prior to Super Bowl 50.
Newton had an MVP-caliber season, throwing for 35 touchdowns and rushing for another 10. He led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record, a third playoff appearance and a chance to be world champions with a win Sunday night.
Yet, Cam has been an undeniably polarizing figure for reasons tough to grasp. He’s a bona fide winner, having led Auburn to an undefeated season and a National Championship prior to his Carolina exploits. His 6’5, 245 pound frame along with elite athleticism have never before been seen on the football field, much less at the quarterback position.
His confidence and flamboyance could explain much of the disdain directed his way and oh, yeah, there’s the “black quarterback” thing, which incredibly in 2016 is still “a thing.”
However, despite the blinding scrutiny and criticism, Cam has not only continued to excel at the highest level, he has consistently improved and handled all of the noise with grace and class. After having a chance to speak with Cam’s father, Cecil Newton, this week, I understand better how Cam has done it.
Cecil instilled in Cam “values and character,” and the lesson that “there is no existence of something for nothing,” he told me over the phone. “I expressed to him that he had to work hard, not just physically, but mentally,” in order to succeed.
It didn’t take long for Cecil to recognize that Cam was special.
“Cam started playing football at age seven,” he told me. “I introduced him to the game, but he was not reluctant at all. He showed an eagerness to learn the game and get better from the start.”
Though Cam showed promise early, his father took nothing for granted. “Nobody can define where a kid is going to land at ten, eleven, twelve years of age,” Cecil said. “Just because you run for a lot of touchdowns in high school, doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to do that at the collegiate level.”
Cecil, a college football player at Savannah State, a historically black university in Savannah, Georgia, taught his sons the game, but not from the field.
“I didn’t coach them, I decided not to,” he said of Cam and his oldest son Cecil, Jr., who spent time on the practice squads of four NFL teams. “I spent a lot of time coaching them at the kitchen table and in the den. I wanted them to be able to take instructions from other people. A lot of dads coach their sons emotionally, which doesn’t always work.”
It’s clear that Cecil’s teaching methods have worked for Cam. However, don’t expect Cam Newton to rest on his laurels, considerable as they are. Cecil appreciates what Cam has accomplished to date, but it’s clear he would be a bit disappointed if this were the pinnacle for Cam.
“Cam, at this point, is like a ‘catching lightning in a bottle’ type of star,” Cecil pointed out. “For the outside world and for Cam, it’s about longevity. He has to continue to hone his craft and continue to play from the neck up.”
A Cam Newton that continues to improve and play with even more confidence and poise is a scary thought, at least for opposing defenses.
But, what about all that controversy and criticism and America’s seeming resistance to let go of the black QB stigma?
“He understands it,” Cecil said of Cam.
Apparently, so does Cecil.
“Some criticism is deserved,” he opined. “Some previous black quarterbacks didn’t harness their craft as they should have. It’s only natural that people would compare Cam to others with his same body type and skill set.”
Despite that pass, he did acknowledge that the black quarterback discussion took place within their household.
“We talked about things like that years ago, about how he could best meander through the biases and that he couldn’t use that as a crutch.”
But, when it comes down to it, Cecil Newton does not want to take part in any sort of racial battle.
“I just want to say this on the record,” he told me, voice raised. “There are just as many white people that support Cam as there are black people. I don’t see this as a simple black versus white issue.”
In the end, Cecil Newton’s words shed light on Cam’s remarkable success so far in his career. Cam understands the hard work necessary in order to fulfill his promise. He understands that the game is more mental than physical and he understands that he must ignore the outside noise and concentrate on the task at hand.
Cam has done all of that with a smile that Cecil concedes he likely gets from his mother, who, he says, “smiles and laughs a lot.”
When asked how it felt to have his son about to play in Super Bowl 50, Cecil took a deep breath and said it was “kind of unbelievable, considering where [Cam] came from.”
It sounds to me like Cam came from a pretty good place.