After Carolina Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart ran in for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks, Stewart handed the ball to a little girl in the stands. Just look at her face:
That’s pure childlike joy, and we have Cam Newton thank for it. That’s right. The Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback, who has led his team to the Super Bowl and has annoyed opposing fans with his on-field celebrations, started the tradition of “Sunday giveaways.”
This might come as a surprise to those of you who know Newton only for his touchdown dances and Superman poses. Some call him annoying. Others have complained that he’s arrogant and rude. But that’s not what his young fans think. They love him.
If you missed this video of kids who were handed prize footballs, you have to watch it. I promise, it’ll make you smile.
“[Newton] gave the ball to me, and I said, holy cow, my dad’s going to squeeze me as hard as he can,” one boy said. “There’s like a kid stuck in his body.”
He is like a big kid in a lot of ways. Criticize him if you want, but his fun-loving style is infectious. Not only is he having a good time playing the game, he wants others to enjoy those moments with him.
Cam Is Generous Off-Field, Too
That generosity of spirit isn’t just displayed on the field. Newton helps kids off the field, too. He recently received the Ed Block Courage Award for making a positive impact on youth education, physical fitness, and health in Charlotte and Atlanta. His foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to public school systems, impacted more than 4,500 student-athletes, and has fed or helped more than 5,000 children and adults during the holiday seasons.
He’s also known for actually spending time at kids’ sporting events and not just showing up because he has to make an official appearance. Bud Elliott, national recruiting director for SB Nation, says he has watched Newton at these events, and it’s obvious he really cares.
“He engages players on other teams and talks legitimate trash to them,” Elliott wrote. “And the kids love it, talking trash right back to him. He seems to love it, too, wearing a big smile. He’s encouraging and coaching them.”
Elliott tells the story of how, after a long rain delay in Florida, Newton didn’t leave but stuck around like an average Joe. He waited it out with the kids, and when the skies cleared, he was right back out there.
“That stuck with me,” Elliott wrote. ”Cam Newton loves to have fun and gives his time to kids even when the cameras aren’t watching.”
We Should Celebrate Hard Work
Of course, some people might still think little of the 26-year-old because of his on-field dancing and posing. But Newton shrugs off his critics, saying he doesn’t do it to be arrogant. He admits he likes to win and the celebrations are partially about that, but he says he was doing a lot of the same things when they weren’t winning.
“Especially with this dancing that some people approve of and some people don’t,” he told the Charlotte Observer. “I understand that winning sweeps a lot of things under the rug. But my influence still hasn’t changed. I was doing this when we were 3-8-1. There’s a lot that comes with being a quarterback in this league, and it’s not for long. So while I have an opportunity to do a lot of things, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
He also says he’s going to have fun doing it. “When we do things that we work so hard to get, it deserves a celebration from time to time,” Newton said. “I don’t believe we play this game to be subpar or mediocre. And this season has not been mediocre by any means. We don’t mean to brush people to wrong way. We’re just excited to do what we do.”
Newton is right. The opportunity to play at that level doesn’t last long, so players need to enjoy it while it lasts. Why not have fun? That’s something many athletes forget—and not just athletes but all of us, no matter what job we do. We get caught up in the hard work, the day-to-day grind, and we forget that life is short. We lose that childlike wonder and joy. We stop celebrating life. We stop having fun.
Ain’t Nothing Wrong with Childlike Delight
That lesson is especially important for anyone who plays professional sports. There’s a lot of hard work involved, of course; Newton’s teammates talk about how he’s at the stadium from sun-up to sundown, perfecting his skills and working hard to be the best quarterback he can be—and it’s paying off. He’s leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
But the important thing is he hasn’t lost his soul doing it. He hasn’t allowed the insecurities, the fears of failure, or the glory of fame rob him of his childlike delight in the game he loves. He’s out there enjoying himself, and he’s bringing the kids along for the ride.
We can all take a page out of Newton’s playbook. Work hard, do our best, but don’t forget what it feels like to be a kid—the possibilities, the hopes, the dreams, the fun, and, yes, even the dancing.