Cam Newton and celebrations in sports

The biggest American sports event of the year, Super Bowl 50, is right around the corner. Everyone from the avid football fan to the person who doesn’t really understand the rules will be tuning in at some point to see the matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. As always, much of the discussion surrounds the two quarterbacks —  but not in the way one would think.

At quarterback for the Broncos, we have Peyton Manning, an all-time great near the end of his career. However, most of the talk about quarterbacks this postseason has surrounded the Panthers’ Cam Newton. Yet, not all of these comments have been positive.  Why? What’s Newton been up to that’s made him more discussion-worthy than a legend who might be adding a final Super Bowl to his long list of accomplishments.?

Simply put, many football fans take issue with how Newton presents himself on the field. In fact, fans even booed him during a pre-Super Bowl ceremony that took place Monday night. Newton is known for exuding a very high level of confidence, and, allegedly, arrogance, while he’s playing on the field.

What defines people’s perceptions of Newton most are his celebrations. He makes sure his celebrations on successful plays and touchdowns are always seen and remembered. Thanks to Newton, dabbing has become a popular move in the sports community.  It has become so widespread that published an article a few days ago to explain the roots of “dabbing.” Newton’s celebratory antics are viewed by many as distasteful and unprofessional, and have been a discussion point all throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

Three key points need to be made here that are too often glazed over in debates about Newton. The first is that he’s a great quarterback. People don’t want to admit this, but he’s consistently been putting up amazing numbers since he was drafted in 2011. This season, after some shaky seasons, the Panthers went 15-1 and swept through playoffs en route to the Super Bowl. Most rankings, including those at, have him as the top quarterback of the season. This matters for one reason only: he’s earned the right to display confidence, even if it may feel excessive. He may talk plenty, but he’s definitely walked the walk this season.

Another point that’s more debatable but possibly more important is that he’s exciting, nay, absolutely thrilling, to watch. I happen to be a huge fan of the mobile quarterback, which is a role that Newton, alongside Russell Wilson, has legitimized. His game is explosive not just because of his raw skills, but because he’s a dual threat; there have been games where he’s looked better running the ball than the running backs themselves.

Because his style of play is so energetic, I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable that the energy might just seep into everything else he does. Newton is definitely energetic just by nature alone. However, few people would get angry at you if you said you appreciated watching a Newton touchdown drive because it hypes you up; why can’t the same apply to the celebration right after the touchdown?

Finally, this last point might be as subjective as they come, but its value to this discussion couldn’t be stressed more: plenty of his actions on and off the field point to him being a good person as a whole. He’s visited multiple charity organizations, bringing a smiles to the patients faces as well as raising awareness for the respective charity’s cause. One of the more genuine things he’s become known for is chasing down footballs after he’s scored, including from the hands of a referee, to hand them to dedicated Panthers fans. It is too easy to dismiss Newton as confident and ignore other qualities he’s exhibited on the team like leadership and passion.

Plenty of fans and players, including the Broncos’ Von Miller and Manning, have expressed their support for, or at least acceptance of, how Newton chooses to hold himself as a player before, during, and after plays. The opinion that I’ve expressed here clearly aligns with this support, and is one that a person has the full right to wholeheartedly disagree with. For such people, though, I do want to discuss the value of celebrations in sports as a whole.

For viewers and fans, sports are, in the end, a means of entertainment. It is perfectly fair to desire a degree of professionalism in what you watch, because watching something that’s sloppy and chaotic when it isn’t meant to be isn’t very entertaining. Nonetheless, sports should be treated like any form of entertainment. It should be open to criticism because everyone is entitled to their opinion in regards to something that’s designed for their enjoyment. However, people also need to be respectful of choices made by the entertainers, as long as those choices don’t truly infringe upon others. As far as Newton is concerned, even if you disagree with all the ideas that have been put forth here, I think we could eventually agree that he hasn’t offended someone in a truly deep way, and he has certainly succeeded in delighting thousands. Cam Newton is an entertainer who’s at the peak of his art, and should be allowed to enjoy it.

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