Do People Really Hate The Panthers Or Just Cam?

Charlotte, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers are one of the most polarizing teams in recent memory. They are beloved by fans, but many people dislike their antics and seem to take offense to the team’s personality.

It all starts with Cam Newton.  As the quarterback and face of the franchise, he is the Panthers’ primary  representative to the rest of the world. He smiles a lot. He celebrates touchdowns by dancing. He announces first downs with an exaggerated gesture. He pretends to transform from Clark Kent to Superman. He has fun playing arguably the toughest position in sports and his demeanor doesn’t sit well with many non-Panther fans.

Cam Newton supermanThere are those in the general public that think that professional athletes should always be humble and thankful to play a game for a large sum of money, which is understandable.  Peyton Manning’s “aww shucks, I’m just glad to be here” public persona is more ingratiating to fans than Cam’s “I always expected to be here” attitude.  This generation of youth are viewed as “entitled”, and athletes especially are the personification of this perceived entitlement mentality.

It would be naive to think race and culture are not factors in his public perception given the racial and cultural climate currently. In case you haven’t noticed, Cam is black, and he represents the current generation of young black males. He is not waltzing after touchdowns, although he did do the twist after one touchdown as a bit of sarcasm toward his detractors. His dances are Hip-Hop. He was photographed with Future and Young Jeezy, two prominent Hip-Hop artists from his hometown of Atlanta, before the NFC Championship game. He glides around town, and to work, on his hover board. Newton wore a pair of Zebra print Versace pants as the team traveled from Charlotte to Santa Clara for the Super Bowl. Cam Newton is a supremely talented, 26-year-old, black millionaire, and unapologetically so, which makes some people uncomfortable.  Again, race may not be the only factor in people’s opinions on Newton. His brash confidence could be considered cocky or arrogant, but no more than most professional athletes. He just has a higher profile. Cam absolutely wants to be great individually, but not to the detriment of the team.

cam newton pantsThe narrative regarding black quarterbacks for many years was that they were not capable playing quarterback effectively in the NFL because they weren’t smart enough to learn NFL systems. The criticisms of Cam as an NFL prospect were that he would have difficulty adjusting to a pro-style offense and that he had displayed poor character while in college stemming from an incident with a “stolen” lap top. When current Colts quarterback Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford instead of entering the 2011 NFL draft, there was the notion in the Charlotte area that the Panthers should “Suck for Luck”, rather than draft Cam Newton. Some of the sentiments were based on football ability but some of the opinions, especially the unspoken beliefs, were based on who, and what, Cam represented.

Cam Newton gives a young fan the game ball after every touchdown he scores. His Cam Newton Foundation works to aid children with socioeconomic, educational, physical and emotional needs. Cam helped feed more than 900 kids last Thanksgiving. He visited the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting at Emanuel AME Church, even inviting one of the families to the Panthers’ final regular season game against Tampa Bay.  He uses his celebrity to uplift people in many instances.

Still, Newton is often epitomized as what is wrong with sports today. Aaron Rodgers does his discount double check.  Rob Gronkowski has the Gronk Spike.  J.J. Watt does whatever he can think of at the moment.  Cam Dabs.  Only Cam faces such a high and intense level of scrutiny. A Seattle Seahawks’ fan started a petition to ban Cam Newton from the Seahawks’ stadium. A Tennessee Titans’ fan wrote an open letter to Cam disparaging his celebrations and dances during the Panthers contest against the Titans this season.  People label Cam a thug and direct racial slurs towards him consistently on social media.

aaron-rodgers-packers-bearsThe rest of the Panthers’ are basically victims of the Cam effect. Luke Kuechly is a superstar in his own right and deservedly so. He was the Defensive Player of the year in 2013 and is a perennial All-Pro. Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis have elevated themselves to star status as well. Davis was the Walter Payton man of the year in 2014.  Like Cam, they are both highly visible in the community and charitable with their time.  Josh Norman’s star is on the rise.  The rest of the players are not household names. They are seen dabbing in team photos with Cam. They, like Cam, hand out balls to young kids after touchdowns. Teams usually take on the identity of their best player, and even more so when that player is the quarterback. This team is fun loving and generous, much like their star quarterback. There were no notable off-field issues with this team this season, and there isn’t much to dislike.

Davis man of yearLet’s be honest. When people say they don’t like the Carolina Panthers, they really mean that they don’t like Cam Newton. I’ve even heard Panthers’ fans say they like the team, but not Cam. The Panthers weren’t supposed to be a one loss Super Bowl team this year. Cam was not supposed to be the MVP.  So much for people’s expectations.

Haters are going to hate, but they can’t change what happens on the field, which is what is most important. Society will have to deal with it’s notions and opinions about today’s youth, black males, athletes and the combination of the three.  It is an election year, so people are polarized on issues and candidates even more than usual.  Cam Newton and Donald Trump may have more in common than one would think.

donald trump camWin or lose, Cam and the Carolina Panthers will continue to be who they are, as instructed by head coach Ron Rivera.  The rest of the world will have to deal with it, because as Cam Newton so eloquently stated, “they don’t make band-aids for feelings”.