How much does Atlanta fear and loathe Cam Newton? Enough to keep his name off the city’s road maps.
It was a stark episode in the metro area’s prickly relationship with a native son. Three years ago, a Fulton County commissioner tried to change a street name in honor of the Carolina Panthers quarterback, who will lead his team in Super Bowl 50 after clinching Sunday’s NFC championship. Cam Newton Drive would have been outside the Perimeter in unincorporated south Fulton, stretching about two miles and passing Newton’s parents’ house.
But residents of the still-named Scarborough Road torpedoed the idea, and not just because they didn’t want to reprint their stationary, order new checks and change their drivers’ licenses. They also raised the prospect of Newton evolving into another millionaire miscreant of the NFL, bringing shame on their two-lane rural thoroughfare.
One woman invoked Newton’s arrest over a stolen laptop and generally trashed his family, including his father who was once accused of soliciting money from a university recruiting his son.
“In my time, they named roads after people after they died. That way they couldn’t get in trouble anymore,” Sammye Setzer told the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, according to minutes of a July 2012 public meeting. “Cam’s only 23 years old, and I’ve got underwear older than that.”
Another resident said he’d lived on Scarborough for almost 30 years, while the quarterback hadn’t been alive long enough to “experience life.”
“Usually when you change the name of a street or give honor to a person, he’s done something for the state of Georgia,” Johnnie Powell said, invoking – perhaps unintentionally – Auburn’s 49-31 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in 2010. By halftime of that game, Newton had become the first player in SEC history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.
“But I don’t see,” Powell said, “where he’s done any accomplishment – accomplishments enough to grant this to change the name of my street where I live, which is going to cost me money to have all my records changed, license changed, which is going to be a burden of at least $100 to $200 for every individual that lives on that street.”
Edwards retorted that personal attacks on Newton’s family were out of line, defending the Westlake High School alumnus as a south Fulton youth who “beat the odds.”
Newton went on from Westlake to lead Auburn to SEC and national championships, to win a Heisman Trophy, to be first overall NFL draft pick in 2011, and to sign a five-year contract extension with the Panthers last year worth $103.8 million.
Edwards suggested critics look into the histories of some of the families whose names adorn south Fulton’s roadways. “You may not be as proud as you think you are,” he said.
After a second public hearing, though, Edwards concluded residents were overwhelmingly opposed and scrapped the idea. He said they did agree that something should be done to honor Newton.
So instead of changing a road name, Fulton County put up 25 signs reading, “Unincorporated South Fulton County: Home of 2010 Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton.” There’s one along Scarborough Road, right where it begins off Welcome All Road. Thanks to an adoring Auburn alum who worked for a sign company, which took care of the design, graphic work and printing, the endeavor only cost Fulton taxpayers about $1,000 for labor and sign poles.
Ex-Commissioner Edwards, who lost a reelection bid in 2014, said Newton’s Super Bowl fortunes should prompt a revival of his Cam Newton Drive plan.
“How much more do you have to prove?” Edwards said.
As for Newton himself, his grandmother told a television reporter he couldn’t care less about having his name on a street sign. (UPDATE: Edwards said Tuesday that he spoke with Newton’s father, Cecil, and the family doesn’t want to revisit the street name proposal. But if the Panthers win the Super Bowl, Edwards said he’ll look for private funds to add Newton’s NFL accomplishments to the existing 25 signs.)
Meanwhile, in other south Fulton County road name news, megachurch pastor and flying enthusiast Cleflo Dollar would have a stretch of Old National Highway named for him under a resolution sponsored by state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta. But that’s another story.