For certain sure this World needs at least one more insightful squeeze of the latest National Zit known as CAM.
…. Another clan of Kreepy Kardashians has crawled out of a storm drain on the Slauson Cutoff. Art Fern tells us to “cut-off our Slauson” before “taking the fork-in-the-road”…. to debate whether CAM is on the short list of why our national hand basket is closer to Hell than it was just three weeks ago….
CAM (Newton) has become a National Rorschach Test. A shrink holds up a 6’6” 250 lb ink blot wearing a towel to cover his odd-shaped ears, and YOU tell the shrink what you see. There is no right/wrong answer yet are YOU certain what YOU see is what everyone should also see because…..
This “one” (the umpteenth CAM column) is not so much another dissection of Why Cam Why as it is of Why America Why.
Will Leitch, along with Jason Whitlock, is a sports/culture columnist I usually stop to read. That he, like me, is a St Louis Cardinals fan is partly to blame for my affinity for him. I also usually agree with him on other stuff too…. like this one.
February 9, 2016
Cam Newton, to a certain sort of person, represents all that’s wrong with professional sports right now. He is also, to another type of person, exactly what sports needs, the physical manifestation of where sports is capable of taking us. There is a racial component to this dichotomy, but I’m not sure it’s entirely race-related. (It is, of course, partly race-related, because everything is at least partly race-related.) I think it has a lot to do with what you want out of sports.
People watch sports for lots of reasons, but I think you can ultimately channel our reactions to sports through two basic, primal emotions: escape and release.
To watch sports for escape is to use sports as a way to free yourself from the bounds of real life. The everyday world is terrifying. It is scary and dangerous and confusing, and peril lurks around every corner. Life has no right answers; you can try to do the right thing, to be a good person, and you still might fail, because life is hard. Thus, sports is an escape from that, a place where the lack of rules that govern everyday life are replaced by a system that is fair and just and, most importantly, absolute. If your team wins, you are happy. If it loses, you are sad. You recognize that there is nothing so black and white like that in the real world, and thus revel in sports’ perfect simplicity.
This makes it easier to appreciate not just sports’ athleticism, but its exuberance.
Sports is the only thing that can make a grown adult spontaneously burst into joyous screaming. (In public, anyway.) You love it when an athlete enjoys himself or herself because that’s what you should be doing when you’re doing something that’s so much fun. That’s what you would do too! You cheer passionately, but also with perspective: Mostly, you’re just happy to be at the ballpark. The world is chaotic and destructive. This is a place away from that, where for three hours, your bills aren’t late and your boss isn’t on your case and your kids aren’t mad at you and the world isn’t going to hell in a damned handbasket. All that can wait until the game is over. You are here to have fun. You are here to get away.
And then there are those who watch sports for release….. This is a more aggressive sort of sports fandom, but no less sincere. This perspective looks for sports to reaffirm one’s values in the real world; sports are not an escape from life, but a metaphor for it. What you see on the field should be reflective of what you want to see in the world. Justice. Equality. Fairness. Teamwork. And Fierce Competitiveness. Losing is not simply the logical result of what happens when two teams play each other, but a failure of character.
These are the people who tend to be the yellers, the ones most outraged by bad calls by officials, the ones who make the most noise in general. They are the ones who see all the injustice in the world, all the suffering, all the things that are wrong and should be right, and believe sports should be the balm for all of it. They yell at players because they can’t yell at the insurance companies for their ridiculous premiums, or their kids’ teachers for not caring enough, or that presidential candidate for saying that terrible thing that presidential candidate said.
The world is constantly changing, but to this sort of fan, sports should be constant: The outside planet may shift its values, but, dammit, sports isn’t supposed to. When you see sports as a release, you don’t see players as otherworldly blessed athletes operating at an optimum level for our amusement and enjoyment. You see them as performing an important role for society — an Example — and therefore inextricable from the real world. You put demands on these athletes, and you are quick to loudly rebuke them when they fail to meet those demands. If they are not what you believe they should be, they are reflective of society’s failure, not independent of it.
Those who love Cam Newton tend to be in the first camp, the escapers….. They see Newton’s exuberance and otherworldly talent, his constant ability to be at the center of everything, the confidence, the charisma, the occasional flashes of anger, and they see all they could possibly want out of sports. Newton can do things on the football field that no other human being can do, and takes appropriate joy from those abilities. His amazing accomplishments become our amazing accomplishments because the only reason we’re watching is to see him perform. When he fails, it’s part of the show — no one has ever gone their entire life without losing, and no one ever will — but it’s not a moral failing on his part.
You lose sometimes. It happens. And if you don’t feel like talking after a loss — particularly if it’s because someone you can’t see near you is loudly detailing how he just beat you — that’s OK with us. We don’t pay to watch you talk. We pay to watch you be the best player in the NFL. Which you are.
Those who hate Cam Newton tend to be in the second camp, the releasers. What escapers see as Newton’s enthusiasm, releasers see as braggadocio. His charisma is a distraction from the team, a conscious way to separate himself. He’s physically gifted, of course, but what else? When he fails, like he did in the Super Bowl, it is not because he ran into Von Miller and a group of large men just as driven and gifted as he is; it’s because he had put the pride before his fall. The contrast between his exuberance while winning and his disgruntlement while losing is his tell; to be even-keeled and humble is what leads to reward, not self-aggrandizement.
Newton didn’t lose because the Broncos were better; Newton lost because he put himself above The Game. To a releaser, this is the worst crime of all — not just in sports, but in life. It’s why they’re so connected. And it’s why Newton stands for so much they cannot abide.
Is there a racial component to those two camps? I suspect a correlation, but I do not want to overstate that, or get overly stuck on it. The fact is, Newton is just a great football player, maybe one of the best ever, already, and when you are a great player, whether you’re LeBron James or Bryce Harper or Barry Bonds or Charles Barkley or Brett Favre, you are always going to be the flashpoint.
People will look at you and attach whatever qualities to you that most jibe with their personal biases.
This is what comes with the territory of true athletic genius, particularly in this age of increased scrutiny from every direction. We look at you all the time, and we see in you what we want to see in you.
We see ourselves, what we wish we were, what we are glad we are not, and everything in between. We talk about Newton constantly, the same way we talk about LeBron and Harper and the rest of them. But we’re all really just talking about us.
* * *