Dear Angry Mom,
I just finished reading your letter to Cam Newton that appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Charlotte Observer. Admittedly, I haven’t thought of penning a letter to an athlete since I decided I wanted to marry Walter Payton. When I was 4 years old. Still, kudos to you for having and executing an idea that netted you 15 minutes of viral fame.
I, like you, am a mother (to two boys). I also work in sports media, which means I was pretty much obligated to read your missive. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the subject of every third tweet on my timeline.
Let me get right to the point: I found your criticisms of Newton to be woefully misplaced. More crucially, it defies logic that, of all the things happening in the NFL, from domestic violence to concussions and everything in between, this is the one that upset you enough to put quill to paper. I also found your sentiments to be backward, antiquated, ignorant and — because there’s really no other way to put this — racial in overtone.
By all accounts, Cam Newton is among the most gifted and hardest-working players in the league. No, you didn’t call him a “thug,” per se, but the coded language in your letter couldn’t have been more obvious:
"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."
Oh, I’m sure you did. Now, you did realize you were at an NFL game, right? Not a taping of Antiques Road Show? Have you ever watched an NFL game before? I’m not sure if you’re privy to what’s been going on the league over the last few years, but if I’m taking my children to see real-world examples of graciousness and sportsmanship, a professional football game would rank somewhere between a NASCAR infield and a UFC weigh-in on the list. Even the best, biggest-name guys in the league stomp and strut after the most pedestrian of plays, acting like they just reeled in a large-mouth bass.
This is the NFL — the biggest, most diamond-studded stage in American sports. Surely, you recall Janet Jackson’s boob popping out during the Super Bowl Halftime Show, right?
Now, you said in your letter you consider yourself a fan. You also have a daughter. I’m curious: Did you ever sit down and write a letter to Greg Hardy over beating up his girlfriend so badly that she looked like she’d been in a car accident?
Did you summon some holy rage when Ray Rice checked his texts while his fiancée lay unconscious on an elevator floor?
Did Ray McDonald make you as angry as Cam Newton?
Are these people role models for your daughters?
Were you shocked and appalled by Carson Palmer telling Seattle fans to “suck it”?
What about Palmer’s backup, Drew Stanton, dancing comically down the sidelines on Andre Ellington’s touchdown run?
Were those guys “arrogant”? Were they “taunting” or being too “in your face?"
It’s pretty hard to argue Palmer and Stanton don't deserve just as much scorn as Newton — if not more. And yet, according to Twitter, they received far less of it.
Let’s be honest for just a moment, shall we? We don’t have to wonder why that is. Those of us who grew up in white communities know very well the kind of language used to denigrate young, black men without actually using those certain words. Instead, we use words like Arrogant. Or Taunting. Or In your face.
Truth be told, there are few athletes I’d be comfortable having my kids look up to. Cam Newton just happens to be a rare exception. In fact, he’s about as clean-cut and controversy-free as NFL players come these days. He’s unfailingly polite and well-spoken. He continued his studies despite being taken first overall in the NFL draft, getting his college degree in sociology this year and keeping a promise to his mother.
His charity, the Cam Newton Foundation, helps children who are mentally, physically, or socio-economically disadvantaged. In fact, a two-second Google search — something you seemingly didn’t bother to do — turns up dozens upon dozens of photos of him with smiling children, all of them pleased as punch just to be in his presence. And you know what? He looks happy to be there. Not I’m-being-paid-to-do-this happy. Not my-team-made-me-be-here happy. Genuinely happy.
And so I ask you: What mother wouldn’t want her children to look up to a man like that?
Clearly, I don't know you. I can't say with certainty why you thought scolding Newton over his all-too-common on-field celebration was warranted. But I know why many, many other people feel as you do. I'd like to believe that you have never used the word “thug,” but I know that many, many other people have. Ironically, the same thing that earns Palmer and Stanton laughs and backslaps completely unfurls to jeers and angry letters from parents when it comes to Newton.
Of course, you actually took things a step or two further:
"And because you are a role model, your behavior brought out like behavior in the stands. Some of the Panthers fans in our section began taunting the hometown fans. Many Titans fans booed you, a few offering instructive, but not necessarily family friendly, suggestions as to how you might change your behavior."
You actually blamed Newton for the behavior of other (presumably) grown men in the stands. Whither the notion of personal responsibility? Is it really fair to blame Newton for not acting like a role model, while excusing other adults — many of them older — for their bad behavior? I mean, Cam Newton is a hell of a quarterback; I had no idea he was a world-class hypnotist, too.
Finally, are we really to believe that your 9-year-old daughter was affected by Newton’s theatrics? She's 9; a Miley Cyrus appearance at the Teen Choice Awards is far more likely to corrupt your daughter than anything you'll see on an NFL field.
Truth is, you could’ve solved all of this — every last petty complaint — by simply explaining to your daughter what football actually is: a big, brash game played by big, brash men. You could’ve told her that these players are human beings; independent people that don’t always act how you want them to, the way you wish your own children would.
Instead, you wrote a lazy, half-considered letter to try to shame a player who deserves it far less than do several of his notorious colleagues. So go ahead and gawk and squawk and squeal about Newton’s “pelvic thrusts” and “in your face taunting” 'til the cows come home. Your letter reveals more about you (and the far too many people who agree with you) than it ever will about Cam Newton. Just make sure you sit down with your daughter and have her Google Cam Newton, and then Greg Hardy. Show her the images that come up. Help her digest the stories. Only then will your misplaced views be put into their proper context for her.
And with any luck, each of you will have learned a few things.
Another Angry Mom (albeit for different reasons entirely)