Cam Newton should never stop dancing


People need to stop getting upset when Cam Newton celebrates by dancing.

When it comes to silly controversies that exemplify so much of what is wrong with NFL culture, it’s hard to top the recent hand-wringing about Cam Newton’s on-field dancing. The story has everything: pearl-clutching mothers writing to local newspapers, oblivious fans fretting about the integrity of the game, grown men who play one of the most violent sports in existence whining about hurt feelings. The whole ordeal — that it’s even a “controversy” at all — is so ridiculous that it seems like some sort of parody, like a sketch comedy pitch left on the cutting room floor because it’s deemed too absurd. It’s almost hard to believe.

The inciting incident occurred a few weeks ago. Newton had just scored a touchdown to put his Carolina Panthers up, 26-10, over the Tennessee Titans, and he celebrated by dancing. Seriously, that was the extent of his so-called crimes: rhythmic body movements. Linebackers Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard took offense and got in the quarterback’s face, thus cutting the celebration short. They found Newton’s celebratory dance moves unsportsmanlike — a head-scratching bit of hypocrisy considering how earlier in the game Williamson punctuated a sack by busting out some moves from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video.

Williamson’s in-game dancing wasn’t dissected in terms of its implications about his character, but Newton was afforded no such luxury. FOX analyst Charles Davis went in with this bit of silly concern trolling about Newton’s maturity:

"He’s had the `Superman’ celebrations in the past, now he has this new one, and on that last one, it just kept going and going. I think the Titans felt like he rubbed their faces in it. I think it went too long and it went too far. That looked like the early Cam, not the Cam we are coming to know now."

But Davis wasn’t even the bottom of the stupidity barrel. That award belonged to Tennessee fan Rosemary Plorin, who found Newton’s youthful exuberance so intolerable that she wrote in to the Charlotte Observer to complain. Plorin, who was at the game with her daughter, felt that Newton’s dancing — again, we’re talking about dancing here, folks — undermined his position as a role model:

"Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter. The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all.I refuse to believe you don’t realize you are a role model. You are paid millions of dollars every week to play hard and be a leader. In the off season you’re expected to make appearances, support charities, and inspire young kids to pursue your sport and all sports. With everything the NFL has gone through in recent years, I’m confident they have advised that you are, by virtue of your position and career choice, a role model.And because you are a role model, your behavior brought out like behavior in the stands. Some of the Panthers fans in our section began taunting the hometown fans. Many Titans fans booed you, a few offering instructive, but not necessarily family friendly, suggestions as to how you might change your behavior."

That’s some A+ pearl-clutching right there. It hits all the right notes: condescending, illogical, so holier-than-thou that it almost defies belief. Plorin ended by going full Helen Lovejoy:

"I don’t know about your family life Mr. Newton, but I think I’m safe in saying thousands of kids watch you every week. You have amazing talent and an incredible platform to be a role model for them. Unfortunately, what you modeled for them today was egotism, arrogance and poor sportsmanship."

(Pro tip: when you feel compelled to bring out the “think of the children” line of argument, it’s probably a sign that you’re on the wrong side of things.)

Newton handled the criticism with far more grace and patience than was warranted, apologizing for any potential offense he might have caused Plorin — he shouldn’t have had to apologize in the first place, but that he elected to do so was a good look. To her credit Plorin walked back a bit on her comments after her letter to the Observer went viral, making her the target of plenty of well-deserved internet teasing. Newton was a bit less diplomatic when it came to addressing his offended opponents:

This whole stupid controversy arose because Newton dared to celebrate. You know, the thing that plenty of beloved players both past and present have done. (Fun game for the whole family: try to figure out why players like Aaron Rogers and J.J. Watt can celebrate after big plays without being called “classless” or “a thug.” Why are their displays of excitement treated differently than those made by Newton or, say, Richard Sherman? Why is Drew Stanton not being vilified? Hmmm. Why could that be?)

Worrying about “inappropriate” celebrations is ridiculous on every level. Football is an ugly, brutal game, one in which bodily harm is dished out and incurred on every play. The NFL is a morally bankrupt institution that would be comical in its mishandling of social issues — see: Greg Hardy and Ray Rice — if said issues weren’t so serious. To think that a young player displaying joy on the field is somehow an affront to the game is foolish. How clueless and short-sighted do you have to be in order to find dancing offensive? That’s really your hill to die on when it comes to the toxic aspects of NFL culture? All this dancing is undermining the holy sanctity of concussion-ball!

As far as Newton, he dished out the ultimate response on Thanksgiving, celebrating a touchdown with some dance moves more palatable and familiar to archetypal Thanksgiving Racist Uncles Who Are Scared Of Baggy Pants And Loud Music. It was a brilliant and wonderfully unsubtle piece of trolling — a way to undercut the whole debate and expose it for the ridiculous sham that it so clearly is. Seriously, how can you not love this?

Here’s the thing: if you don’t want players to celebrate at all, well, you are more than allowed to hold that opinion. It seems a bit joyless and restrictive, but you’re free to feel that way. Football elicits a lot of wonderful human emotions, and it is a bit odd to say that players shouldn’t get caught up in all the excitement, that they should just hand the ball to a ref after every big play as if nothing amazing or important just occurred. Hey, it’s a free country; you do you. But the hand-wringing when it comes to Cam Newton is more than just some fuddy-duddies worrying about sportsmanship. It’s an exhausting, stupid controversy propped up by double standards and dog whistles. And for that reason hopefully Newton never stops dancing.