Okay, so here's the short story:
Zachary and I watched the Super Bowl together last Sunday. Because he loves football and is a true student of the game, he admitted that, while he had a great fondness for both quarterbacks on both teams, he was squarely in the Cam Newton/Panthers camp.
I think it's because my son and many kids like him identify with Cam. Like them, he was a rec ball football player growing up and, of course, Zack loves that he's from Atlanta. I had to snap his picture during that game to capture his scowl. He was not pleased.
As a side bar, I have to say that Zachary's full knowledge of the game was impressive. He called more plays than I'm sure the coaches did and had several suggestions for what the Panthers could do to right the front of the ship. Finally, on that last turnover, he gave up.
"I'm going to bed, mom," he said. "This game is over."
And he was right.
Later that evening, Cam Newton gave very surly answers in the press conferences. He definitely poked all of the bears who hate him and even swayed a few that love him to the dark side. I woke up in the morning and saw that social media was painted with mean, mean words about Cam Newton. Comment after comment--even from the true, blue Carolina Panthers fans--all scathing and foul.
When I got Zachary ready for school that next morning, I gave him the final score and other updates.
"Did anything else good happen?" he asked.
That's when I decided to tell him about that press conference. He asked to see it and I showed him that, too. I saw a tiny wave of disappointment wash over his face. That's when I knew I needed to talk to him about the hometown hero Cam and all of the other things that somehow got conveniently forgotten after the media momentum took over.
So what did I say? Well. Mostly I kept it real. And then, after talking to him, I came inside, jumped on Facebook and typed out my thoughts on Cam. I clicked send and headed in to get dressed.
By noon there had been approximately 5,500 shares. Yup. By close of business, it was over 20, 000. The following day, I was even asked by a major news network to let them publish it on their blog as an op ed piece.
And so. Below is the post that I banged out onto Facebook Monday that ultimately was shared over 35,000 times. Morals of the story for me are:
1. People who write a lot can write good things in short time frame.
2. FaceBook and social media are no joke.
3. Still not sure how I feel about being viral.
Anyways. Read below.
A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE ON CAM NEWTON.
You are born and raised on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia, where you spend your earliest years playing recreational league football with your brothers. Early on, you stand out and are noted to have special talent and an unusual combination of a throwing arm, an eye for the field, and bulldozer running ability. On you go to high school, where you are lauded as the best thing since running water and Estee Lauder for your remarkable talent. Division I schools go berserk, offering you racks-on-racks-on-racks of scholarships.
You decide to become a Florida Gator and do quite well for a freshman. But, like many young people in that environment, you make a few bad choices that land you in some trouble. The trouble reaches a climax and threats of expulsion. Your rising star feels like it is falling. You transfer from the multimillion-dollar SEC show to a junior college.
But even at that JC, your talent comes exploding out of you. One NJCAA championship later, you are back on the SEC recruitment bubble and, this time, you shift your shade of blue and orange to become an Auburn Tiger. Though marked with some controversy, it turns out to be a good move. You become the Heisman Trophy winner, you win a BCS National Championship, and are the first round draft pick in the NFL draft. This was the dream you'd spoken of since you were playing rec ball in the SWATS (Southwest Atlanta.)
You become the face of a youngish team, the Carolina Panthers. You get endorsements, praise and fans galore. You use your influence to give back to communities and chasten your body to be better than even the best you've ever known. You become the face of every kid who suits up for those Saturday games and give hope to the ones who are hitting speed breakers along the way. You set your eyes on a shiny prize to culminate what you've been working for your entire life: The Super Bowl.
The year 2015 comes and you play the best season of your life and arguably a season better than most quarterbacks in the NFL will ever know. Your explosive smile can't be hidden, your youthful exuberance oozes out in the form of dances and celebratory gestures that build your quest for your team's first ever Lombardi Trophy to a fever pitch. And like the sign of the true greats, people hate you and people love you with equal fervor. But it's OK, because you can taste it. This is your moment. The show has come.
And so, under those lights and with the cameras you, the rec ball kid that beat the odds of going from SEC to JCC to SEC again to NFL finally gets the chance. This is your wedding day, the pinnacle of your 26 year-old life and you run out of that tunnel not only with your fans but with every single child whose story mirrors yours strapped onto your strong, muscular back. It's for all of you and you know it.
But something happens. Nothing goes as it is supposed to. Things unravel and mistakes are made. You fumble in the end zone, get stripped of the ball repeatedly and, ultimately, your team loses the game -- the game that you have been imagining for your entire life and the very one that was so in your grasp that people urged you to "go easy" on the opposing team. In the back of your head, you know what your Christian mama would tell you: "What God has for you is for you." And you know that this wasn't what He had for you this time.
But it still hurts. Bad.
Now. See all that and then moments after, picture speaking to throngs of reporters. No, this isn't a discussion of just a crappy game. This is a man who is dejected after losing what was, quite literally, his life's dream. If you were close to that -- I mean, so that you feel it in your bones -- would you dance? Would you smile? Perhaps. And perhaps, were you him and that dream that was shut up in your bones slipped from your grasp, you'd have the maturity to take your lumps and be a good sport -- which, I agree, would be the right thing to do.
Take a moment to ponder your greatest wish. The one that goes back further than you can remember and the one that you can't get out of your head. Now, imagine an entire world watching as you get right up to it, and then add to that legions of people who not only look like you but identify with your story. Then see it all crash down before you on national television, with cameras flashing. What expression would be on your face? How would you speak or what would your mannerisms convey? At 45, mine might be different than they were at 26.
I told my son that Cam Newton made a mistake in that press conference, that he was immature and a bad sport and shouldn't have behaved that way. But then, I told him of all of the things I just mentioned. I told my son -- my rec ball kid who loves Cam -- that he is just a man and that what we see is one who was so disappointed that he lost his impulse control. That if Cam had just thought about the fact that he was the league MVP -- someone with a 15-1 record -- and about all of the children that he made smile that he'd realize that he had nothing to be sad about. That said, every NFL player wishes for a ring and can want one bad enough to make a huge faux pas. He is still the same guy that put in all that effort to beat insane odds, and that I'm still okay with him being his fan. I told my son, for context, that Cam Newton is twenty years younger than his mother and father and that young people do some dumb things and learn from them -- his parents included.
Be careful with your Cam Newton narrative. His father is not Archie Manning and his path is a story of triumph and resilience. That will be the overarching take-home message that I tell my son about the guy who smiles and "dabs" -- not that he was a bad sport.
This morning as we waited for the bus, my son said, "I'm glad for Peyton Manning. This was a good way for him to go out. I'm sad for Cam Newton, but he will get over it. It looks like he wanted to cry, and if I was him, I would want to go be by myself so I could cry, too."
To which I replied: "You know what, son? Me, too."