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Cam Newton deserved better.
He deserved better than the way his long-term relationship with the Carolina Panthers ended, with him officially released by the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.
Lest we forget, the Panthers were largely an NFL afterthought before Newton arrived: sure they qualified for the playoffs every 2-3 years, and they even made it to a Super Bowl. But their straight-out-of-the-90s teal-and-black color combination and the fact they played in a smaller city didn’t help their cause.
Charlotte a decade ago isn’t the Charlotte of now. The city’s population has exploded, with its financial services sector becoming a major draw for millennials. The number of people in the area has risen, as has the profile of the NFL team.
The former can’t be attributed to Cam, but the latter most certainly can.
No one at this point should be blind to the realities of NFL life — team owners and general managers and coaches will say they love a player and then cut him the minute it becomes convenient. Players deserve better.
Franchise icons deserve more.
Panthers owner David Tepper has seemingly wanted to move on from Newton for a few months, though general manager Marty Hurney was a little more reluctant to come to that conclusion since Newton was his pick, during his first tenure as general manager.
On Tuesday, it became convenient to say that the Panthers couldn’t find a trade partner for Newton because coronavirus-related restrictions meant teams couldn’t bring him in for a physical. That’s interesting spin, since Newton reportedly underwent a physical on Monday in Atlanta that he passed, but also because the Panthers knew they wanted to move on from Newton weeks, if not months, ago and could have made him available then, when there were no such restrictions.
Cam deserved better than what the Panthers offered the past few years in terms of the offensive line.
He certainly deserved — deserves — better than NFL officials who too often turned a blind eye to the beatings he took at the hands of defensive players, keeping their penalty flags in their pockets for infractions they never would have allowed for other quarterbacks. His recent injuries are pointed to now as the major reason why he wasn’t traded, but we may never know how his health was negatively impacted by the lack of protection he received.
Cam deserved better than to be strung along like a less-attractive prom date, the Panthers hanging onto him reluctantly just in case the more attractive option in their eyes, in this case Teddy Bridgewater, didn’t say yes.
He deserved better than a fan base that seemed to not truly appreciate him until very recently, when his foot injury meant Kyle Allen and Will Grier started most of the season and they saw just what Cam meant to the team.
He certainly deserves better than much of the criticism that has been written and said of him, beginning before he was drafted and continuing for much of his career, from a pre-draft evaluation that tabbed him “very disingenuous” with a “fake smile” among other things, to faux-outrage over his “dabbing” and other celebrations to the most vile letter one reporter received about him in 2016.
Sports franchises would be lucky to have a leader like Newton as the face of their team. Saying he’s never been in trouble as a pro is too low of a bar and demeans what he did for the Charlotte area.
Every teammate and many coaches got nicknames. Every touchdown ball was given to a child in the stands. He frequently gave food or money to those he’d encounter on the street, not just in Charlotte but on the road too. He’d join pick-up basketball or touch football games randomly, feeding his own competitive need but also serving as a cheerleader for his new, likely gobsmacked friends.
His annual Thanksgiving Jam was an incredible event that grew in recent years. The quarterback and his foundation hosted over 1,200 people per year, children and in-need families. Cam helped serve them a holiday dinner, and everyone also got a second meal to bring home to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day.
Days before Christmas last year, his foot still protected from surgery to fix the Lisfranc injury that ended his season, he surprised multiple Charlotte-area organizations with gifts: gift cards for the entire staff at a pre-K through 8 school, $15,000 for the athletics program at a high school, a hefty donation and backpacks to an after-school program.
Cam loves kids, helping kids, uplifting kids (his foundation is built off of one belief: “Every1 Matters”), through gestures we know of and hundreds more we don’t. He encourages them to dream, to be themselves both in words and in action — hello, eccentric fashion sense — and didn’t hide from his failures.
Serving at a men’s shelter on the day of his Christmas giveaway, he reiterated that he wanted to stay with the Panthers, at one point telling a reporter, “Listen, let me tell you something: In order for me to leave, they got to get rid of me.”
You did it, Carolina, you got rid of him. Good luck finding a quarterback who will do as much with your team on and off the field as Cam did.
He deserved better.
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