'Turkey Jam' reveals another side to Cam

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
8:00
AM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The crowd was at a fever pitch, standing and screaming as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton walked out to the "Superman" theme song. Only this superhero wasn't wearing a cape or a football uniform.

This was Clark Kent Cam.

Instead of his typical Sunday "man of steel" armor, Newton was wearing an apron.

Instead of feasting on defenders, he was offering a feast.

Instead of playing to a packed stadium of fans who could afford high-priced tickets, he was playing to a room full of underprivileged children.

This was the second annual Cam's Thanksgiving Jam. Or as Newton called it in his deep, bold voice, the "CAM TURKEY JAM!"

Some of the 820 kids who were straining their vocal cords during this Monday night pre-Thanksgiving feast at The Fillmore hadn't seen the amazing things Newton does on the football field. They didn't know he'd led the Panthers to seven straight wins and an 8-3 record.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Courtesy of the Cam Newton FoundationCam Newton recruited family and friends to help him serve Thanksgiving meals to Charlotte-area children.
They were just amazed that Newton -- along with his parents, Cecil and Jackie, and younger brother, Caylin -- was taking time to dish out turkey, mashed potatoes and other holiday staples.

"Before, I thought he was just a quarterback," said Gracie, one of Newton's young admirers. "Now I think he's a good person."

This wasn't the Newton who was portrayed as selfish and aloof during his first two NFL seasons. This wasn't the Newton who often would put a towel over his head and sulk after throwing an interception.

This was a Newton who, in many ways, was no different from the kids.

Wide-eyed. Carefree. Innocent.

"I don't think they were screaming at me," Newton said with a smile. "I think they were screaming at Sir Purr."

True, many were excited to see the Panthers' big, furry mascot. But they were there because of Newton.

"Those guys, all they want to do is scream, have fun and eat," said Newton, who put on this event with the help of Second Harvest Food Bank. "That's pretty much my everyday life as well. I scream calling plays, have fun playing, and at the end of it I love to eat."

And, as Newton reminded several times, it's hard to go wrong when you're playing to a group whose average age is 8.

"You can't do no wrong when you're up there being yourself, having fun and just feeding off the energy they give you," he added.

If you want to see Newton at ease, put him on a stage with a microphone and surround him with kids. The connection he felt with them -- and they felt with him -- was instantaneous. He was like a minister leading a congregation, which shouldn't come as a surprise since he grew up the son of church bishop.

"I had to learn how to speak in crowds by default," Newton said backstage, where the roar of the children enjoying a hot meal still could be heard. "We always were put on the spot growing up in the church of having to say Easter speeches."

It wasn't easy initially. Newton would get so nervous he would cry.

"But over the years, as you grow, you begin to get comfortable in front of big crowds," the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft said.

Now the tears come to his parents as they watch their son take time from his busy schedule to make a difference in the community.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Courtesy of the Cam Newton FoundationNewton also served as the master of ceremonies.
"My heart is warmed," said Cecil, a Pentecostal bishop and pastor in the Atlanta area.

Said Jackie, "It worked. Being a parent finally paid off. He remembered something."

On the field, Cam Newton pretends to rip open his No. 1 jersey to show an "S" on his chest after scoring touchdowns. But when he talks of being No. 1 here, it is in reference to his foundation's "Every 1 Matters" motto -- not him, as has been the perception.

In a recent interview with Fox Sports, Newton acknowledged how fans could interpret his demeanor and attitude as arrogant and selfish before this season. He said close friends and family members forced him to look at things that he now calls "very disgusting."

"I want to be recognized as Superman, it's my alter ego, but in a lot of ways I have that Batman demeanor," Newton said in the Fox interview. "Nobody knows who Batman is. For so long nobody's known who I am off the field."

Perhaps events such as Monday's will provide a glimpse.

"He's really a nice young man," Jackie said.

But in many ways, the 24-year-old Newton still is just a kid. He seemed just as happy conducting a dance contest with a group of children on this night as he did throwing the winning touchdown with 43 seconds left in Miami on Sunday.

"In some aspects," Cecil said, agreeing. "Millions of people see him as a football player, but he is an individual. We want him to lead by example and let people see the person, Cameron."

Asked what he's most thankful for this holiday season, Newton didn't pause.

"It's family," he said. "My whole overall experience I've been through, the good, the bad, the ugly, has made me the person I am today. Being able to share my testimony, not only to the people that are here tonight ... it just speaks volumes."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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