Public scrutiny is nothing new to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Prior to the 2011 draft he was knocked for having a "disingenuous smile," some questioned whether he deserved the Heisman trophy amid controversy and upon entering the NFL questions were raised whether he was a leader or just an "Icon and entertainer." Newton sat down with Laura Okmin of Fox Sports to reveal who he is, not just as a quarterback but as a man.
Newton credits his maturation to his "deflators," a role played by his father and oldest brother. It's a title of gratitude given to two people that help bring him back down to earth when his head is "getting full of helium," as Newton calls it. One of their jobs this offseason was to sit him down and show him why he's perceived as selfish.
"It was very disgusting," Newton said. "That's as blunt as I can be. I could say other words as well. We went back on YouTube and looked at Cam Newton's post game interviews. I was like "oh my God," I see what people see. I see how people are viewing me. When they see this selfish player, or see this childish temper tantrum that I was throwing, I'm like "that's why people look at me like that"
Understanding how the world perceives him was the first step in noticing the problem and becoming a better teammate. The Panthers quarterback talked about his inconsistency and how he was often aloof. Newton said the rest of the organization needed to play a guessing game. "I get it now," Newton said, "It's not about one week getting there 30 minutes early with donuts, then not being around the next week." He also better understood why his method was often off base, "My intentions were good. I never once wanted to portray a guy who was nonchalant about anything but winning, but the way I came off was too aggressive."
The shift in demeanor was noticeable prior to the season as teammates voted Newton a captain for the first time, and the quarterback is having fun again after two years of criticism for his surly attitude and towel over his head.
"I've always since high school had the towel over my head. Why? I was inspired by Michael Jordan. He would come to the sideline put a towel over his head and a towel over his lap. I was trying to be like Mike, everyone was trying to be like Mike."
The Carolina Panthers are currently at 5-3, one game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. A four game winning streak has turned around the season, but Newton isn't ready to rest on his laurels after the team went about .500 for the first time in his career.
"It's just seven games in. People act like we need to have a celebration. Are we excited, absolutely but it's pushing us to higher heights."
Food analogies are common for Newton. When he first arrived in Carolina he told the media the path to winning would be more like "Collard greens than instant grits," alluding to how it would take time for the Panthers to be good. Now he's discussing the team in terms of banana pudding. The need for the team's preparation and ingredients to come together in harmony to create a good result. He was candid about why it took time for him to be a healthy part of this recipe.
"I was scared for a lot of reasons. I've never been in a place this long, now I can call Charlotte home."
Letting more of his personality shine through and becoming more comfortable are two ways Newton has improved as a player, a teammate and as a man. The gregarious persona on the field didn't really mirror his feelings off it, as he talked about being a loner who would spend time at home alone with his dog, rather than spend time socializing with teammates -- something that's changed
"I want to be recognized as Superman, it's my alter ego, but in a lot of ways I have that Batman demeanor. Nobody knows who Batman is. For so long nobody's known who I am off the field."
Being a loner didn't work for Newton over his first two years. He was asked to be the Panthers lone offensive threat in 2012, leading the team in passing and rushing en route to a 7-9 record.
"It turns from Superman to the X-Men or the Justice League real quick," Newton said. "Let's be frank, I can't do this by myself."
The full 30-minute interview can be seen here, and it reveals a lot more about Newton's preparation and how he's learned to deal with teammates. He closes with a firm understanding and regret that an interview needed to take place at all.
"I'm happy to be here, but I hate this this is happening. This shouldn't even happen. You shouldn't need to have a discussion about your maturation."
His dream is for the Panthers to win a Super Bowl, which Newton acknowledges will take a lot of time and effort but believes the pieces are in place. If he can keep leading this team and stay away from the bad habits that seeped through in his first two seasons they might have a shot.