As the opening kick-off for SuperBowl L is just under a week away, all talk has been centered around a single issue, seemingly engulfing American society. Instead of anticipating the erratic commercials for an out-of-date cheesy flavored tortilla chip, or even a sleazily-dressed actress repping a logo in support of her unamused father, all talk has been centered on the controversy surrounding the best player in the league — Cam Newton.
Newton and the Panthers are primed to give the sports fanatics in Charlotte a reason to smile; god knows they sure need it. The Panthers, coming into the biggest game of the season with only one blemish on a near-perfect resume, have the chance to complete a season many doubted from the start.
After coming off a lackluster season going 8-9-1 in 2014, the Panthers finished the regular season 15-1 and cruised through the NFC playoffs for a matchup with the aging sheriff Peyton Manning and his Broncos. But the narrative for this game has shifted, and instead of the world focusing on the stellar season the Panthers have produced, criticism has been the only acknowledgement placed on the team from the Tar Heel state.
Newton has taken most of the criticism, as skeptics are quick to hone in on the star’s antics both on and off the field. Apparently, post touchdown celebrations, distributing footballs to kids whose parents paid half their mortgages to be in the front row and dabbing on them folks, a phenomenon that has now spread across the entire country, has become the most sacrilegious sin the NFL has seen to date.
Newton, aware of the negative attention, hasn’t been quiet to harp back at the shade thrown his way.
“I’m a African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to,” Newton said.
Boom, shots fired! And just like that, race has entered the equation. It seems the underlying issue always comes back to the history of unfairness brought against black quarterbacks in the NFL — or more accurately, black quarterbacks who fit the “black stereotype” description.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does not fit that mold. Known as an articulate leader for Seattle, Wilson has ironically been called out for not being “black enough” by anonymous members of his own team at times. Foolish to say the least, the characteristics Cam Newton has grown to acquire are none short of being an ambassador to this league. Sure it’s easy to put on a nice smile and carry yourself with an innocent connotation when all is biscuits n’ gravy. Bottom line: Cam is on top of the world right now, especially coming from what has occurred in his past. The maturation process is clear as day.
Newton was once Tim Tebow’s backup at Florida, only to have to attend Blinn College a year later after being kicked off the team for accusations around stealing a laptop and not following team rules. The star talent then found himself at Auburn, winning the Heisman Trophy and National Championship. What would prelude him was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Panthers.
All eyes were on the kid from College Park, Georgia.
In 2014, the Panthers were not able to ride the wave of the ’13 team, losing game after game; all the blame again went to none other than Newton. In December of the same year, Cam found himself in a two-car accident that found his truck flipped over and him being thankful for his life.
“Somebody is supposed to be dead,” Newton said.
Escaping with only minor back pain, Newton and Carolina could do no wrong after. Carolina went on to finish the season on a four-game winning streak, and would carry that momentum into this season. Reeling off 14 consecutive wins before falling to the Falcons Dec. 27. Safe to say Cam is making the most of his $118 million dollar contract, with $60 million guaranteed. But it still isn’t enough.
ESPN colleague Bomani Jones, host of his ESPN radio show, “The Right Time,” was quoted saying the “Simple reality,” that the country “does not like black people very much” added onto the sentiment is race being the underlying issue to Cam’s recent controversy.
Is America still not ready for a black quarterback? A quarterback, regardless of race, that has produced gaudy numbers this season of more than 3,800 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and a passer rating of 99.4.
What Cam has done this past year should be celebrated. His antics have been refreshing to a game that has deeper issues than post TD celebrations. Cam should go on to win MVP for his remarkable play this season. I too found myself to be a Cam critic early on in his career, but have found myself slowly contorting to be one of his biggest fans. Not only based upon his on field production, but how he handles adversity. Cam would do us all a favor if he wrote a book on how to silence critics.
I’m sure Peyton is in favor of all the stirred up attention being placed around Cam, I guess we all just forgot about the HGH allegations placed on Manning and his wife. The same HGH Peyton admitted his wife took that he failed to let anyone know of before the matter gained national attention. But instead, all focus in on Cam. And as Vegas and others are expecting, Cam and the Panthers should have a field day come Feb. 7. Whether a win or loss, Cam has majority of the league in his favor. He has learned the position many thought would never happen. He can finally relax knowing that his career is finally going the way he had planned and the best of his game is still to come.
There will always be controversy, there will always be a reason to point blame on an athlete when it is merited, but in this situation, Cam has done nothing worth the vilification thrown his way. A black quarterback can thrive in today’s society, but can society thrive with a black quarterback? Time will only tell, but Cam is making the case for the entire league to garnish the studs’ play as legendary.
Providing comic relief to the situation, Newton also stated in an interview,” If I was white no one would care about me dabbing. Actually if I was white I wouldn’t know how to dab.” I’m guessing Clemson’s Dabo Swinney would beg to differ.
Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton
Bryant is a sports advocate who’s always smiling. He is a senior print and online journalism major aspiring for a career as a professional or college football columnist. Bryant currently covers high school football games for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn