Around this time last year, Cam Newton was being lauded as the future of the NFL.
As he was making 400 yard passing days look mundane, and creating electrifying plays with his feet, it was clear that Cam was something special. Even though his team finished 6-10, there were hardly any naysayers about what Cam was capable of, nor were there any doubts that he’d eventually make the Carolina Panthers a Super Bowl contender.
Both figuratively and — through his now-famous touchdown dance — literally, Cam was Superman. But if you like getting praised like Superman when you play well, you better be ready to be made fun of like Clark Kent when you mess up.
Cam, clearly, was not prepared for the latter.
On September 20, the Panthers faced the defending champion New York Giants on Thursday night. It was a national spotlight for Cam to showcase against the best that he was prepared to take the leap from great to elite.
Instead, he played a terrible game en route to a 36—7 loss. During the game, Panther teammate Steve Smith ripped into him for being down on the sideline. After the game, he seemed sad and was pouty about his subpar performance. The next week, hometown newspaper the Charlotte Observer mocked him in a cartoon. And Sunday, Cam reportedly held up a team bus while sulking in the locker room after a devastating loss to the Atlanta Falcons. In the game, he fumbled late while trying to get a first down, and although he recovered, the offense ended up having to punt to give the Falcons the time needed for a last minute drive.
While everything went right for Cam last year, it’s all gone the other way in his sophomore campaign. He hasn’t shown the grit and leadership we’d expect of a franchise player.
Here’s some advice Cam: Haters gonna hate. Don’t let it faze you, and keep working.
Drop the Superman dance shtick. Sure, it’s just a relatively harmless celebration, but if you’re not winning, you know the that celebration will be the first thing the talk show radio hosts will point to to tear you down.
Being a leader isn’t just about saying the right things either. You have to act the part. Fix the bad body language after a bad throw, and show the confidence of a winner. You’ve won your whole life; start acting like it.
This isn’t the first time you’ve caught flak. When you were at Auburn, all anyone wanted to do was paint you as the problem with college sports. All you did was win the Heisman Trophy and lead your team to the National Championship. Then those same detractors were calling you the best college football player in the country.
Don’t let the criticism transform your career into just another cautionary tale. Vince Young came into the league, won immediately, and earned two Pro Bowl invites in the process. Now he’s looking for a job and is in major financial trouble.
JaMarcus Russell is probably the most tragic case. After being drafted by the Oakland Raiders as the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft, Russell could never read a pro defense or stay in shape, and is now labeled as one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Rather than let the detractors get you down, use it as fuel. Rather than sulking when you make a mistake, talk to coaches and figure out what went wrong. Rather than pouting when your team’s down, psyche up the rest of your teammates. And rather than doing the Superman celebration when you score, celebrate with the offensive line that helped get you there.
Essentially, be a leader. Being Superman isn’t about the fake S on your chest that you show off when you score a touchdown.
It’s about the heart inside your chest when your team needs you.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter at @StefenLovelace