The Underlying Discomfort With Cam Newton’s Blackness
I’ve been intrigued by black quarterbacks for as long as I’ve been a fan of football. For me, the golden age was when I first picked up the sport in the early 2000s and Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were two of the best players in the game. Today, that space is filled by a handful of other players that you’re sure to see on my fantasy football team every year, such as Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor and the soon-to-be MVP, Cam Newton.
If you hadn’t noticed, Newton of the Carolina Panthers is having an historic season. This past Sunday he played an integral role in getting his 15-1 team to the Super Bowl after routing the Arizona Cardinals with a final score of 49-15.
Like every other year, with two weeks of space in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, a vacuum develops in the media that leaves no stone unturned and no question unasked for a new lead on a story. To no surprise, an angle that’s already being dived into is one that’s followed the most prominent adopter of the “dab” all season long.
In all of 50 years, Newton will only be the sixth black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl and would only be the third to win, if he’s so fortunate. But Cam’s unlike the other five members of the same elite club that came before him in that he’s so outwardly confident some try to write it off as undeserved arrogance.
This season alone,. The most prominent example of this was when a fan published a letter in The Charlotte Observer condemning Newton for not being a good role model. Rosemary Plorin, a Tennessee Titans fan and a mother of a fourth-grader went to a game and watched Cam Newton soak in the moment after scoring like he always does with dances, striking a Superman pose or some other variation of celebration.
In her letter, Plorin then leaned on the overused literary tool of voicing her opinion through a third party. In this case, the third party was her daughter who Plorin claimed asked questions such as, “Won’t he get in trouble for doing that? Is he trying to make people mad? Do you think he knows he looks like a spoiled brat?”
Come on, really? What fourth-grader gets so upset over a football celebration that they’ll call a grown man “a spoiled brat”? This was likely Plorin projecting her own feelings onto her child to justify her case that Newton is somehow a bad role model. [For the record, Newton’s been a virtual hero in the community for the entirety of his NFL career through charity and volunteering.]
Aaron Rodgers runs around the stadium thrusting his hips back and forth for what’s become the “discount double-check” and no one’s complained. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten him a string of commercials.
This letter wasn’t fooling anyone. The problem wasn’t that Newton was celebrating, it’s that he’s something that a lot of people still don’t know how to handle – an outwardly confident black man.
Newton was candid when he spoke to the press this week when they asked him why he feels he can be so controversial.
“I’ve said this since day one,” Newton said in response, according to ESPN. “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”
Newton didn’t just say he scares people because he’s the freak-of-nature athlete that he is. [He’s the size of a linebacker with the speed of a running back and the arm of an elite passer.] He made sure to mention his race as a part of the equation.
Many people are sure to spend the next couple of weeks taking the approach of “he’s not a black quarterback, he’s a quarterback that happens to be black.” But the truth of the matter is Cam Newton’s blackness plays a role in his public appearance.
Times have indeed changed. We’re seeing more black quarterbacks leading NFL franchises every year. The once blatant racism against them is even improving with time. There are some people out there who really just don’t like Cam Newton because he’s a black quarterback. But then there are those that don’t like him because he’s a black quarterback that’s unapologetic about his success and not the modest, humble type of player that will celebrate good plays with the pump of a fist, a high-five and silently jog to the sideline.
Doug Williams, the first quarterback to appear in and win a Super Bowl in 1988, agrees with the idea that Newton is treated how he is because of his race.
“I’m not going to be the one who says what my thinking is, because sometimes it don’t matter what I think,” Williams said to USA Today. “It ain’t going to matter what he thinks. Because at the end of the day you’ve got a lot of people denying (racism is behind the criticism of Newton), that that’s not true. Even if it’s true, they’re going to deny it.”
Williams went on to applaud Newton for his success and even wishes he would’ve had his talent back in his playing days, which is one of the grandest compliments one athlete can give to another.
I’ve said that Cam Newton is the prototype of the quarterback of the future for years now. This is me finally saying it on the record. Hopefully with a championship ring on his hand, people will learn to accept him for who he is – a confident, cheerful, talented black quarterback.
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