First things first: There’s fake news floating around about Cam Newton, and we need to debunk it. No, that was not a "romphim" he sported at Coachella.
“That was not a romper; that was a two-piece. Don’t try to play me, man,” Newton says. “It took on a life of its own. I really love the fashion intention, but for me, at 6’5” to step into something and have to zip it up or button it up and it be a one-piece… I have kids and that’s what they go to sleep in.”
That’s fair, but let’s be honest: Given Newton’s singular fashion sense, it was easy for everyone to believe that he was ahead of that particular (questionable) trend. It is the unmistakable Cam couture that has a bunch of reporters gathered at the Westside Cultural Arts Center on a sticky, 90-degree Atlanta night in mid-July. The quick-footed Carolina Panthers quarterback, donning his synonymous oversized chapeau, is here to make moves off the field with the launch of his new lifestyle sneaker, the C1N.
It’s a first for Cam, and a first for Under Armour. But when you consider that Ace Boogie’s sartorial swag is on par with, (if he had to choose), the NBA’s Russell Westbrook, it’s almost a no-brainer to venture into the lifestyle space. So why, after several releases of performance shoes, did it take so long to branch out?
“It’s making it right,” Newton tells Complex. “A lot of times, especially in this process, I didn’t want to create something that I was going to end up saying, ‘Man, I wish I would've added this,’ or, ‘Man, I wish would’ve put this in a different area.’ It took Under Armour telling me, ‘Listen, it’s going to take time to scratch this off the to-do list.’ This is a year-and-a-half in the making and creating.”
Cam has been a part of the Under Armour family essentially since his Auburn days, long before other endorsers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Steph Curry came on board. And much like his process in developing the C1N, Newton thinks that Johnson and Curry’s creations will come to fruition over time.
“I think Steph’s new shoes are about to be unbelievable,” says the former first-round pick and 2015 MVP. “They came a long way... but I think these new ones are going to shock the world.”
And shocking the world is what Under Armour entrusted Cam to do. With the C1Ns, Cam was integral in every part of the process, from creating seven (!) different colorways that each symbolize something special in his life, to conceptualizing the storytelling around the marketing and social media rollout. Adrienne Lofton, UA’s SVP of global brand management, says it was the first time in the company’s 21-year history that an athlete has been so involved. To Under Armour, Cam Newton is an influencer at the forefront of all the things that move the needle: culture, competition, and creativity.
“He is our creative director for Under Armour football,” Lofton explains. “What we wanted to do is launch his platform. This is the first of many exciting things to come.”
For an athlete often painted by the press as petulant and sullen, Newton couldn’t overstate his elation at Under Armour allowing him to, finally, tell his own story on his own terms.
“All I’m trying to do is self-expression. I wanted something to stick out,” Newton says. “I wanted something to have some type of boldness and volume and with that was the definition of what the shoe represents.”
The first wave of the C1Ns include three colorways: the all-red “Hometowns,” the Frank Sinatra-Inspired “Chairman,” and a black-and-gold “442” based on Cam’s 24-karat gold classic Oldsmobile.
A cursory scroll through Cam’s Instagram, often captioned with song lyrics, quickly communicates his passion for music. With roots in College Park, Georgia, Cam is the culture. Hip-hop is as much a part of the design of the C1Ns as the fabric, laces, and insoles.
“I see the Migos and I listen to their music. I’m a big fan of Pretty Girls Love Trap Music,” Ace Boogie details. “I will always pay homage to the André 3000s, the OutKasts, the Big Bois, the T.I.s of the world, the Jeezys. I feel [like] if you want to see a hot artist, they have [to have] some type of roots in Atlanta.”
As he steps into his expanded role with UA, it’s not a stretch to call Cam an artist as well. But, in his words, just like Beyoncé tapped into two sides of her personality with her alter ego Sasha Fierce, there’s times when Superman morphs into his inner Ol’ Blue Eyes. The silver and blue “Chairman” C1Ns offer a sleek option that can be dressed up for a meeting or a night on the town. To hear the story of how the 28-year-old fell in love with Sinatra is to see him melt from a giant to a little kid, breaking out into that undeniable, multimillion-dollar sparkling smile.
“To be honest, I was in a store. It was a store or restaurant and I heard ‘Luck Be a Lady.’ And I was like, man, I can’t believe a song that was in the 1950s has so much resemblance of this time and this era. [sings] ‘Luck be a lady tonight’—basically it was Sinatra proving to that female, like look, [sings] ‘Stick with me baby, I’m the guy that you came in with’—this is me. Come here and stick with me. For you to look somewhere else, that’s wrong. You my date for the night, you dig what I’m saying? I was just listening to Sinatra and I became a fan and it went from there.”
Much like Sinatra did it his way, Cam’s partnership with Under Armour and the launch of the C1Ns speak to Newton finding his footing as well. As he enters his seventh season in the NFL, just two years removed from a trip to the Super Bowl, he’s recognized that it’s time now to start seizing control of the narrative and making boss moves.
“I have a big saying that if you have the clout, everything else falls into place,” he explains, “but you have to first take on what your No. 1 responsibility is, and my responsibility is [to] perform on the football field and everything else will fall a little bit later.”
No one can deny that Cam has performed. He made a triumphant debut in the league as the 2011 Rookie of the Year, has the most combined yards in Panther franchise history, and the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history. Don’t forget that he’s tied with Tom Brady as the only five-time Player of the Week in the same season, and has racked up countless other records along with being 2015’s Offensive Player of the Year and MVP. In his rearview are the Deshaun Watsons and Jameis Winstons, younger QBs he’s become a teacher to and yet who are nipping at his heels. But in the field of vision ahead of him are the vets writing the book on going from athlete to entrepreneur...and Cam is doing his homework.
“When I see a person like a Michael Strahan, a Magic Johnson, a Michael Jordan. Even now when I see a LeBron James, these are people who are businessmen and using the game—not letting the game use them,” Newton says, thoughtfully. “That’s very impactful for me. I want to be able to leave my mark on this game and will always be solely focused on the game of football, but in that, inspiring and using the game as well.”
See, to you, the C1N might be just a shoe. To Cam Newton, it’s the first page in his next chapter.