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Cam Newton on Those Versace Pants, Race in America, and Whether He Would Let His Kid Play Football

Cam Newton carries an iPad with him in a case displaying the logo of Super Bowl 50—the game his Panthers lost in excruciating fashion, after which he went home and cried and cried and cried, until 4 a.m. came and he didn’t have any more tears left. He keeps a to-do list tucked into the iPad case, like he’s about to go run errands with the other suburban wives having lunch at this restaurant in Buckhead, the Atlanta neighborhood 25 miles from where he grew up and where he now owns an off-season home, and in time he shows me what’s on it. A white piece of paper covered in neat, tiny handwriting, Cam reading aloud from it. “Gotta get a truck tag. Gotta go to the bank. Got to…oh, send an e-mail about the play diagrams. Gotta go get my watches wound. Gotta go to the dry cleaner.” Gotta get in some quality time with his infant son, Chosen. Gotta do this interview.

He holds the to-do list in his giant hands, and once you notice his hands they’re all you can see. They’re like weird stone formations you might encounter out in a desert. You could imagine desperate, nomadic civilizations finally coming to rest and building settlements around them. Otherwise he’s so perfectly proportional you wouldn’t notice the way he’s built, which is: densely. You wouldn’t know he regularly gets hit at car-crash speeds by rough human equivalents of compact cars. Plenty of players wear that kind of punishment on their faces after a while. Not Cam. The NFL’s reigning MVP. Entering his sixth remarkable season in the league and he looks…fresh. Only the hands give him away, the fact that he plays a borderline blood sport for money and our entertainment.

Entertainment. He takes that part seriously, maybe too seriously. Football! “What other sport do you know brings people around, or that brings the unity from family, friends, loved ones, like a Super Bowl does?” He loves football. Embodies its spirit, its better angels. If someone stumbled out of the Alaskan wilderness tomorrow, wondering why we’re all so obsessed with this dumb, complicated game, you’d show them tape of Cam—against the Giants last year, maybe, the game where the Panthers led 35-7 in the third quarter, gave up the entire lead by the end of the fourth, only for Cam to rise up from the turf, unkillable like Michael Myers, and calmly drive his team to victory. It was like watching something implacable make its way down the field—the improbable grace amid chaos, the sheer power of his talent. More than 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing, five passing touchdowns in a single game, the first player in NFL history to do that. A battering ram that handles like a BMW.

“The optimism of football brings people together closer than any other sport,” he says, and that’s what Cam wants to do. His goal is to win football games and inspire joy, in that order. “It’s all about winning,” he says. “I’m not trying to sound like Charlie Sheen, but it is. We live life, like, America, we’re taught to become, you know, successful, and success comes with winning.” This is a guy who hates losing. A proud sore loser.

Recall his post-Super Bowl press conference. A tense and complicated moment for Cam. Shrouded in the cowl of a post-game hooded sweatshirt, minutes removed from losing the most important game of his life. The Panthers had lost just once the entire season. Had been favored by almost a touchdown. The opposing quarterback, Peyton Manning, minutes away from retirement, his right arm as light and wavy as a car-wash balloon. Instead, Cam had his worst performance of the season—sacked six times, intercepted once, fumbled twice, once on what could’ve been the game-winning drive, then failed to fall on the ball. One of those arbitrary moments that completely, unfairly flips the narrative on a player; like his pal Steph Curry, Cam went from being the author of sports perfection to a grasping loser in the span of five minutes. Cam, what did Coach tell you guys after the game? “He told us a lot of things.” He managed about 150 terse, angry seconds, eyes cast nowhere in particular, before standing up, walking off, going home to sob. It was national news—not just the loss but the press conference. “Newton, 26, an ebullient, intelligent, gifted quarterback,” wrote The New York Times, “decided to act in his moment of truth like a 13-year-old.”

“I had so much emotion,” he says now, trying to explain. “A lot of emotion. We play the game to win. And we didn’t.” He’s past it now without regretting it exactly: “I could care less. You know, what a person says to me, says about me—if it’s not coming out of Chosen’s mouth.… That’s what the birth of my son does. Like, what do I gain? Now I have purpose in this world. Whether a mean tweet, a mean [person] saying, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to do it like this’—if my son ain’t saying it, then it don’t matter to me.”

The Super Bowl still follows him around daily, like a ghost. “I just hate that we didn’t win. We had our opportunities. I haven’t seen the game yet. I don’t plan on seeing it. But it just plays back in my mind, knowing that it was plays to be had.” He hates to lose. Hates to bore. He’s a born performer—all you have to do is watch him on the field, or moving powerfully through an Atlanta shopping mall, to know that. He’s got purpose. He carries a to-do list. Puts on a show because that’s what winners do.

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