Dear Cam Newton,
Don’t read this. On general principle. The Carolina Panthers that you’ve led to a 16-1 record have one more game to win until they make it to the Super Bowl, and your mind is surely on other tasks. So don’t read this, in the spirit of ignoring a recent flurry of open letters to you and about you that seem to be sprouting like warts on a bulbous, slow-footed frog.
There was the mom from Tennessee who decried the “close up view” her daughter had of you. “The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all…”
Then the paper ran an entire series under the title, “ “Does Cam Newton’s unwed fatherhood set a bad example?”
And most recently, a letter from a Seahawks fan, essentially accused you of having no sympathy for kids with cancer.
These letters, the first two published in The Charlotte Observer, sound like they were written from a rocking chair on a plantation—demanding you be more of a role model. Their authors believe that, because of your success on the field, you have an obligation to be a better person than they perceive you to be.
But these are only the latest swipes at your character and intelligence. In your rookie year, old, mostly Caucasian sportswriters predicted that you would be a bust, because, despite your physical skills, you lacked “intangibles” and “grit.” These letters, and The Charlotte Observer’s decision to publish them, are vile.
You already are a “role model,” by their readers’ own definition. They say you set a bad example by being at Auburn for one year, ignoring the fact that you went back and got your degree in 2015. They criticize you for being an unmarried father, and ignore how you dote on your newborn child. They say that you dance too much—perhaps they also saw John Lithgow as the hero in Footloose. They ignore the work you’ve done in the community and the irrepressible joy you bring to the field.
But forget the respectability politics for a moment, and the fact that you check every box of what they say they want a role model to be. (It recalls Malcolm X’s mocking the critics of Cassius Clay, saying “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He’s the All-American boy!”) Their exhortations are a racist horseshit double standard. It’s a standard that Tom Brady, with his—waving my fan—child out of wedlock, or Peyton Manning, with his buried sexual harassment allegations from college, never had to face.
Not to mention the irony of looking for role models in a league led by a man who did the ice-bucket challenge to fight ALS, while continuing to deny the connection between ALS and tackle football; in a sport that steals from our cities, spent decades covering up sexual assaults, shielded Greg Hardy, and promotes brain damage as entertainment and something great for your children.
So, Cam Newton, you keep doing you. Not that you need me—or anyone—to say that. You’re navigating the game in a way that threatens to rewrite its rules. It’s inspiring, and brings to mind what is perhaps the foundational statement of Muhammad Ali: “I don’t have to be who you want me to be.” Please don’t.
Respectfully yours (not that you should read this),