The Gospel According to Cam Newton
I really didn’t care what team won last night. I’m a Bears fan through and through. We have rooted for Denver in the past. I like Peyton. We live in Boise, ID. Mostly there are Seahawks fans here. But the whole BSU Broncos and Denver Broncos is a connection that isn’t lost on us. But we picked the Panthers to root for yesterday. Warren (my son) chose them because he wanted a team he hadn’t heard of to win, and me because I prefer underdogs (and despite the press they felt like the underdogs to me) and I like Cam Newton.
After last night’s press conference I like Cam even more. I have a lot to say on that. About how quickly we judge athletes on our stands are professionalism. And how, despite my own naïve disbelief at first, racism plays into our reactions to Cam. But that’s not the angle of Cam that I want to talk about right now, neither of them. What I want to talk about is: Vulnerability.
That’s what I love about Cam Newtown. When Brene Brown talks vulnerability we are open to it. Well many of us are. But what happens when our sporting heroes demonstrate it? They are unprofessional. And I have to say I don’t get it. In 2010 Peyton Manning walked off the field without shaking Drew Brees’ hand. It was deemed by many to be unprofessional. But Peyton called him later and congratulated him. Peyton was upset. Because, guess what? He failed. He came up short with the “whole world” watching and a man who cared about how he played was mad and frustrated and hurt. Thank you. Thank you for letting us know you care. This isn’t just a paycheck. This is just a game. This is what you have devoted your life to doing – to being great at through countless hours of practice.
So if I ask you how it feels… don’t say fine. That’s for sure.
Cam Newton called his team family earlier in the week, and he let his family down and he let us know that. He got asked if he forgets defenses can cancel out offence. (Another time can we talk about the difference between genuine questions and making a statement but sticking a disingenuous question mark on the end of it.) So Cam slunk. Cam dressed down. Cam answer in almost inaudible one word responses. Cam left early. And we cried unprofessional.
Well I cry foul on us.
Do we want the man to care about what he does? Celebrate when he wins, be upset when he loses? Don’t tell me your fine Cam. Because you aren’t. And tell me your hurting the way I would, because that me. You be you. Tell me that this day sucks and you are ready to go home and lick your wounds. I saw the hits. You’re hurting. That defense was good. You know what you never did? You never insulted them. You didn’t rant or impugn anyone else’s character. You just showed us how you felt: dejected.
Thank you Cam for being real where so many other people would, because its easier, put on a smile and fake their way through it. And to us? Is that what we really value???? Do we really value people pretending they don’t care? Are we that unable to bear the discomfort of another person’s pain? Are we that confidant we would look better in their shoes?
In my clinical pastoral education we used to talk about the struggle of pseudo-community. Places where we only get along well because we avoid the hard conversations. We hide the pain, avoid conflict, and pretend it’s all well and good. There is another word for it: dysfunctional. Literally to function with pain. But hidden, secret, and untreatable because we pretend it’s unprofessional to admit it. We go on as walking wounded to proud to admit our own brokenness.
I hear preacher friends who think they always have to have it all together from the pulpit because that is what is expected of them. I say bullshit. And I apologize if that language offends but it’s the only thing fitting I could say there. It’s a load of hogwash. If you have to pretend you are okay to make other people happy than we have a serious serious problem.
I have committed my life to breaking down pseudo-community. I’m prone to being “fine” all the time. The introvert in me would always prefer to tell someone what they want to hear so they will go away and leave me in peace. But I have a dogged need not to let myself play into my own brokenness so I force myself to live my life out loud. I force myself to live open and connected. I force myself to seek genuine community – and I’m a far better person for it. My team is my church… and I’m committed to living with that community as family and we are fully committed to each other… but most of all to making sure the answer “fine” never suffices. Celebrate with abundant joy, and lament with deep sorrow. Feel. Be real. Care and connect.
And on one of the biggest stages we have to offer Cam Newton did that. He gave us a gospel witness. He demonstrated living free from oppression. The kind of oppression we force on ourselves and others. The oppression of a certain type of professionalism that seeks and lauds pseudo-community. I’m in the freeing people from oppression business and I call it gospel. Last night? Cam Newton preached it. And today? I say Amen.