This past weekend, NFL quarterback Cam Newton took the time out and granted a group of young aspiring athletes an opportunity of a lifetime when he chatted a bit with them at a youth football camp. What could’ve been a teachable moment turned left when one of the kids, Jseth Owens, started heckling the former Carolina Panthers player over his status in the league.
As of 2020, the 31-year-old is a free agent and has yet to find a new home after spending nine seasons with the Panthers and one with the New England Patriots. Former coach Ron Rivera says it’s due to poor timing and Newton’s extensive history of injuries he sustained throughout his athletic career.
Nonetheless, when Owens hurled Newton’s less-than-desirable ranking at him, the athlete responded by saying, “I’m rich.” “You about to be poor,” the high schooler said back. After a few exchanges, Newton asked the young man for his father’s whereabouts, which Owens declined to disclose. Despite their rough introduction, Newton decided to still talk to the kid. He asked the young man about his skill sets and what he contributed to his team’s overall success before being interrupted by his coach.
The exchange was caught on camera and quickly went viral, garnering mixed reviews about how both parties handled the situation. Many people came to the defense of the established athlete, citing that regardless of the star’s achievements, he did not warrant disrespect, especially when he took the time out to help those aspiring to be like him.
“I live in Charlotte. Cam Newton is not an athlete who just throws money at charity. He throws his time. Effort and nervy. He shows up. Gives Food. Clothes. Shelter. He’s a real humanitarian,” one Twitter user wrote. He added, “The disrespect from this little sh-t. Is pretty much this generation. Starts at home.”
Another person chimed in, saying, “I live in NC and I can co-sign that. The way I was raised you don’t talk to grown folks like that. Don’t care who he is.”
Fans even took to their social platforms to remind the young man of Newton’s achievements. Newton helped the Auburn Tigers win the 2010 Bowl Championship Series national championship, and that same year he was named the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. Fans echoed that Newton was far from being a has-been despite his free-agent status.
However, even with the overwhelming support for his response, there were still those who seemingly felt that the kid should get a pass, including sports journalist Jason Whitlock, who cited rap music as the ultimate culprit. “We built an entire culture based on disrespect (gangsta rap and battle rap) and materialism (the bag) and we’re feigning shock a kid would disrespect Cam Newton and Cam would respond by shouting ‘I’m rich,'” he wrote. “It’s a mirror of what we’ve constructed. We don’t value self-respect.” His post garnered over 9,000 likes.
Newton addressed the situation with a lengthy Instagram post, writing, “I see there are ALOT of things festering out there that I see have took place over the weekend…. TO THE NATURAL EYE you see me asking the young man “WHERE IS YOUR DAD AT?” but to me, talking to a “child” with everyone looking does me NO good!!” He added, “so instead of speaking or going back and forth with a CHILD, I wanted to have a man to man conversation with his father!!”
Owens has since apologized to Newton, his entire organization and coach for his remarks, and admitted he did not intend for things to blow up as much as they did. “As a football player I let my competitive side get the best of me & it was a huge miscommunication. It was in the midst of the moment & I realize now how a lot of you took it as disrespect. I never meant to humiliate & let anyone down.”
Owens said he was grateful for the opportunity and acknowledged how his actions could affect future endeavors for him but it will not stop him “from getting where I need to be.” He added, “So again, I apologize & hope I can be forgiven.”