I highly recommend Tim Keown’s profile of Cam Newton for ESPN.com. While the portrayal definitely comes down on the positive side of one of sports’ more polarizing athletes, it presents plenty of red meat for those who like him and for those who can’t stand him. And that’s kind of the point. This profile, like the way it describes Newton himself, is “a Rorschach test.”
Personally, I take it as an accounting of how Newton became the person he is—and how he’s always kind of been that way. There’s fascinating, formative stuff in here, like the story about when he acted up in middle school, his father let him dress to the nines once each week to satisfy that need for attention. Or how his father prepared him for the NFL draft by hiring as a mentor and coach former D-II and arena league quarterback George Whitfield Jr., one of whose assignments was to have Newton teach a mini-class on football to some students with only a passing familiarity with the sport.
There’s a lot in here about Whitfield’s and Warren Moon’s work with Newton, and how their preparation focused just as much on social pressures as it did with his on-field progress.
During an interview with a team psychologist of an AFC North team at the combine, Newton was asked whether he sees himself more as a cat or a dog. When he suggested that the question was not relevant and that he saw himself more as a human being, he was immediately asked whether he had a problem with authority.
“African-American quarterbacks get analyzed in ways that others don’t,” Moon says. “We’ve dispelled a lot of those myths, but not all.”
(There’s an anecdote in here where Newton is gobsmacked that Moon never had a Pro Day of his own. Eventually, Moon reveals that NFL scouts didn’t think a black quarterback could make it in the pros, so if he wanted to work out for them, he’d have to catch passes and return punts. Moon declined.)
So, go read Keown’s profile ahead of what should be a very tough game against Seattle on Sunday. The Panthers’ playoff performance after a 15-1 season is going to play a large part in the perception of Newton for the next year, but you almost get the sense it doesn’t matter: everyone’s made up their minds on him already.