In the latest installment of "NFL players are people, and had lives before football," Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he grew up a Falcons fan, and that he remains a Falcons fan except for the two weeks each year that the Panthers play the Falcons.
Newton, a Georgia native, was born in 1989, and would have been just the right age to throw his heart and soul into following Atlanta's phenomenal 1998 season, right up to the Super Bowl loss. Newton would have been around 12 years old when the Falcons drafted Michael Vick, an explosive, exciting player with mind-boggling potential.
We all know that Matt Ryan, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was a lifelong Eagles fan. It stands to reason that a player with enough talent to make it in the NFL, who has spent the vast majority of their life playing the game, would have had some affinity for a local team. What is surprising, and maybe offensive to Panthers fans, about Newton's comment is that Newton explicitly states that he continues to be a Falcons fan, albeit just 14 weeks per year.
What has genuinely surprised me as I have read angry responses to Newton's statement is that Newton's Falcons fandom makes me feel a little protective of him. I will be honest--I don't particularly care for Cam Newton. I did not like him in college, and I now find him whiny and arrogant and tiresome. But this revelation makes me think of Newton as "one of us," and I genuinely don't think that Newton revealing that he still has an affinity for the team that he grew up following is of particular concern.
Newton joins the ranks of Darrelle Revis (who inspired much discussion when he was spotted wearing a Falcons cap while on the trading block), Colin Kaepernick, criticized for wearing a Dolphins cap on the 4th of July, and, of course, Matt Ryan, labeled a "closet Panthers fan" by Panthers fans after being photographed with an autographed Luke Kuechly jersey.
This Cam Newton situation is about as newsworthy as each of those minor issues. The first thing we can all take away from this is that training camp is swiftly approaching, so we'll have much more actual news to report in the very near future. The second thing is, Cam Newton probably really did have fun watching us in January.