as told to Elizabeth McGarr McCue
One of the biggest luxuries of being in the NFL is time. In the off-season you train for three hours a day, so that leaves you with 21 hours. I started experimenting when I got in the league. I was in a band — I did alternative rock, I did hip-hop. I did art shows. I had a clothing line.
Things grew from being hobbies. At the end of the day, you want to turn your hobbies into jobs — that way you can always do what you love. That turned into what I'm doing now, which is children's books, novels, toys, movies, and a cartoon series.
Growing up, most football players don't really know who they are because their identities, for a long time, have been centered around football. Everyone recognizes you as a football player. You really don't develop any other interests because you focus on being the best football player you can possibly be. At a young age, it's cool because you go to school, you play football, and you talk to the girls and hang out with the guys.
But every decision you make then is really a compromise. If I want to go to the movies, seven guys decide on which movie we're going to see. You don't really get to know what you like. In the locker room we listen to hip-hop all the time. Then you think hip-hop is the number one music you like until you start experimenting with other things, and you realize that alternative rock or electronic pop is more what you really love.
A lot of people believe I was bred to be a football player, but my parents bred me to be a creative person. I grew up playing three instruments in a band. My mom's a middle school teacher, and she used to make me do creative writing as a punishment. She'd make me write a five-page story about whatever. It could be about pirates. She didn't care, as long as the handwriting was neat and the story was complete. I started writing about the same characters a lot. As I grew up they started to feel real. Now I'm finally starting to share them with the world.
I got even more serious about creating so that I can live forever for my 19-month-old daughter, Jett. That way, in the stories that I tell, I will be able to leave messages for her, even when I'm gone. She can always turn to me for advice.
Hey A.J. is one of the stories I'm planning on releasing soon, and that's based on Jett. It's about a girl whose imagination gets her in trouble. Let's say it's bath time. As soon as she gets in the bathtub, it turns into a pirate ship. It's Pirates of the Caribbean, and she's having this war in the sea, but then when you come back to reality, it's just her splashing water all over the floor.
The Imagination Lounge is my creative space at my house. I have lots of brainstorming sessions and pizza with friends. If anyone comes over, I usually put them to work creatively. It's either me pitching them an idea or showing them something and getting their feedback. I also built a recording studio where I can do all my voiceover work. I write the soundtrack for my films too, so I'll be recording them as well.
The first animated short film I did, Zoovie: A Warm and Fuzzy Tale, which I released this summer on Vimeo, is 25 minutes long. I also wrote a cartoon series based on it that I've been pitching to companies.
I believe in collaboration, so there were a lot of us who worked on it. I develop the story line and all the characters, and then I introduce everyone at the animation company to the world the characters will be in. From there we all work together bringing my vision to life.
A lot of people ask me who I look up to. Most people expect me to say receivers like Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. They're guys I look up to, but at the same time, I admire authors like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl and film giants like Tim Burton. Not only am I chasing greatness on the field, every single week competing against Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, I also wake up every morning thinking about how I can pass Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl and Tim Burton.
The biggest thing I tell kids — and adults — is that we're allowed to have more than one dream. I think it's hard for people to understand. They're like, "Oh, you're in the NFL!" But that was just one of my dreams.
Photos: Courtesy of the Imagination Agency (background art), Todd Rosenberg for Sports Illustrated (Bennett portrait), David E. Klutho for Sports Illustrated (action)
You probably know Cam Newton as the superstar quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. He led the team to the Super Bowl last season, but came up just short against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. But he didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on the loss — he had to help kids realize their dreams.
As a child, Cam was told he could do anything. And in the new show All In with Cam Newton, premiering on Nickelodeon June 3, he completes the circle by showing a group of kids with big goals that they can accomplish anything, too.
Before the first episode of All In airs, Cam spoke with Sports Illustrated Kids about working on the show, why it was something he wanted to do, and the origin of his iconic Superman dance.
Where did the idea of All In come from?
The idea came from the fact that I wanted to do something with kids, whether on camera or off camera and just have some type of impact for it. I had the opportunity to talk to some of the people at Nickelodeon, and in that meeting I stressed the fact that when people see me play football they see me mimicking a superhero with the Superman dance and Superman baton or different things of that nature. But the truth of the matter is that one of the things I stressed was that every child and every person has some type of super power in them. And with that I wanted to shine light on —you don’t necessarily have to be a football player and don’t necessarily have to have an athletic skill set to be super. Every child has something that comes to them via having a skill from God or a passion. I wanted to give back to the community in many different ways. A makeup artist, gymnastics, different things that may make one child different from the other with the things they look to. And with Nickelodeon being a network that I grew up watching, it’s great to see this show come [together].
How much involvement do you have in developing the show?
Well, I wasn’t exactly the producer. And as far as the involvement, I was pretty hands-on during the whole process. It kind of played out. It was extremely fun. It was different, which made it even more challenging. All my life I’ve been football, football, football. This is kind of the first time where I could try doing something else after so long.
What kind of activities were the kids featured in the show interested in?
Well, we had a wide array of different talents. From gymnastics to 3D makeup artists. We had a person that wanted to be President of the United States. We had veterinarians. Different piano players. It was pretty cool.
How do you decide who to meet, interview and help?
That’s the process I really wasn’t a part of. But with me being [with] and talking to each and every child, it was pretty diverse. From having athletic kids, having kids who wanted to do animation, I got the opportunity to do a lot of different things I would not even imagine. And we had 35 kids that I came across and every single one of them brought something different to the table. It was challenging, the fact that I was doing something that I had never done before on a lot of the show. And some of it was just pure fun.
Since you mentioned the Superman dance, where did that come from?
I was always called it that growing up, and it really just took off. From high school to college, everyone kind of called me that, “Superman. Superman. He can do everything.” By the time I came to the NFL, I just took it on to shine light on me being able to have that type of talent. I wanted to have some type of dance, or something to kind of solidify [that].
Who specifically called you Superman?
People. When people saw me play, like coaches, players and parents. It wasn’t just one specific person that was like, “Oh, your name’s going to be Superman.” When people saw the skill set that I had on a football field they would just say, “That’s super. That’s Superman. There’s nothing that he can’t do.”
When people called you Superman, did they see you differently because you’re African American?
No. I hope they didn’t. And I don’t necessary look at it like that. I more look at it with me having, possessing an ability to play the game so [well]. I don’t think when people watch Superman they care about him being a certain color. It’s because they’re a fan of him, his strength, him being fast, him being smart… So when I’m playing I don’t necessary want people to look at me for [my color], I want them to look at me for who I am, what I do, and what I bring to the table.
What have the Panthers been working on this offseason to get back to the Super Bowl?
Just the same things that I’ve been doing. Working on the consistency. Becoming one with my teammates. Just trying to find different ways to bring a different approach to the game. The bad part about it is that we lost our last game — we didn’t lose a lot of games last year, only two — so I’m also finding ways to eliminate us from being disappointed at the end of the year [this season].
All In with Cam Newton premieres on Nickelodeon Friday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET. Check your local listings.
It's easy to think that superstar athletes have reached the peak of their sports on their natural talent alone. But the same way you might ask for help and advice from friends, family, teachers, or coaches, athletes look for help, too. And some of the biggest names playing today have had some pretty high-profile mentors.
From Sidney Crosby living in Mario Lemieux's house and Stephen Curry growing up in a home with an NBA pro to LeBron James learning from Coach K and Abby Wambach passing the baton to Alex Morgan, we've rounded up 15 examples of important superstar mentor-mentee relationships in sports.