Seriously Speaking: Cam Newton ‘Autograph-gate’ is much ado about nothing

by C. Jemal Horton 

I’ve been incredibly amazed by just how much controversy arose last week when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton held his now-infamous autograph session at SouthPark mall.

Because of a deal he struck with Hawaii-based GT Sports Marketing last year, fans paid anywhere from $125 to $225 to have Newton sign their items at the mall on Friday the13th. But you would’ve thought Newton had done something horrible, like stolen someone’s laptop.

Scores of people, from media members to fans to regular Newton critics, panned the quarterback’s decision to do the autograph session. Some said it perpetuated the “greedy” perception many people developed about Newton when he and his father, Cecil, were embroiled in – and ultimately absolved of – a pay-for-play scandal at Auburn University a few years back. Some said it was selfish for a millionaire athlete to charge anything for an autograph. Others said they could accept Newton being compensated for signing autographs, as long as it wasn’t in the city in which he plays.

Look, I understand the initial shock people had after hearing those dollar figures that Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler reported Newton would receive for his signature. We all know these types of autograph sessions constantly take place at memorabilia events throughout the country, but in small-market Charlotte, particularly during these times of economic tumult, our city gave a collective wince.

But after taking a deep breath, we all needed to step back and ask ourselves one question: Are all Newton autographs going to cost money from this point on?

The answer is no, folks.

By all accounts, when the Panthers start minicamp on Friday, July 27, in Spartanburg, Newton will continue doing what he’s always done: staying as late as he can to sign as many autographs as he can – for free.

There’s also no indication that he’ll refuse to sign complimentary autographs for folks who encounter him in other settings. (Although he certainly has the right to decline for personal reasons, such as times when he’s out with close friends and family, or when he’s simply in a hurry or having a rough day.)

To me, this “Autograph-gate” stuff is being way overblown.

This was no different from any of Newton’s – or any other professional athletes’ – endorsement deals with various companies. Some might think it’s different because people had to show up at SouthPark with money in hand to get their Newton autograph. But Newton wasn’t sitting there personally taking cash from people and shoving it into his pockets; he’s likely already been compensated handsomely by GT Sports Marketing, and this was one of his obligated signing stops, per his endorsement deal.

It’s very much akin to anyone who goes out and buys Under Armour athletic apparel because you’re a Newton fan – you’re not walking up and handing Newton your money directly, but you’re going into the store and paying the company that’s already given him tons of dough to appear in commercials and wear their gear during games and other events.

The difference is, when you go into a sporting goods store and plop down more than a hundred bucks for Cam Newton’s new cleats, he’s not there to converse with you, shake your hand, sign the apparel and pose for a photo.

But the 300 or so people who showed up at SouthPark last week got that from him.

Hey, I’m like most of you: I don’t have the disposable income to pay a celebrity for that kind of time. But I think it’s unnecessary to blame Newton for taking advantage of a perfectly sensible and legal opportunity to improve his financial situation, even if he already has millions in the bank.

Everyone knows a football player’s career can be over in one play. When that happens to an NFL player, his salary disappears and, for the great majority, so do the endorsement deals. So just like any other human being, Newton should seize his chances to capitalize on his fame and talents so that he – or his parents and kids and grandkids, for that matter – can live as comfortably as possible for years to come.

As long as each of his autographs isn’t for sale, why ridicule him for that?

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