Next Sunday marks the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl. If you haven’t heard the name “Cam Newton” before now then get ready. He’s one of the most talented and flashy Quarterbacks in the NFL, blessed with that rare combination of a rocket arm and speed to burn that every NFL team covets. But he also has an image problem, one he shares with another young Quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel have similar backgrounds. Both played their college football in the SEC, both beat Alabama, both won the coveted Heisman Trophy, both are non-traditional Quarterbacks, both were drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, and both have a signature celebration. Johnny Manziel rubs his fingers and thumbs together to signify making a “money” play (although he recently retired the gesture); and Cam Newton pretends to rip open his jersey to reveal a Superman cape.
They share another dubious distinction: most NFL fans hate them. They’re both young guns who came into the league putting themselves first, and both have a penchant for rubbing their success in other peoples’ faces, a fact which rubs fans and opposing players the wrong way.
But as we lead up to the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl on Sunday between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, a dark theory has surfaced and been repeated on media outlets around the country that the reason Cam Newton is disliked is at least partially due to him being black. As the theory goes, white Americans don’t like to see a flamboyant black man stealing the spotlight, and according to Cam Newton himself, “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. People are going to judge and have their own opinion on certain things that I don’t have control over, nor does anybody else.”
In an interview with Dan Patrick, former NFL Wide Receiver Steve Smith (who played three seasons with Cam Newton in Carolina) said this:
“I think it has to do with a little bit of arrogance and also, I hate to say it this way, possibly the color of your skin playing quarterback.”
“Automatically people started calling him a thug. They don’t call Aaron Rogers [a] thug. They don’t call other guys of other colors thugs, but as soon as an African-American athlete does it, they say, ‘thug.’ Really, I think the underlying story of this Super Bowl is the old, traditional gunslinger versus one of the new-age gunslingers, who brings another element that genetically — I hate to say it this way — but Peyton Manning has never had. He is changing the quarterback play as we know it.”
Then today, NFL Media Columnist Jeffri Chadiha threw gasoline on the fire by running a piece on NFL.com asserting that Cam Newton is essentially just a big kid who enjoys the game and gives footballs to kids, and if he were white we’d all be in love with him.
One wrong move and your own people will kneecap you. Get too big and you might be expected to be a beacon of hope for African-Americans all over the country. And if you try to do what Newton has done, then you run the risk of being perceived as too cavalier, too cocky, too concerned with things that really shouldn’t matter.
“Perceived”? This is the same Cam Newton who tore down a Packers fan’s sign earlier this year in a game; the Cam Newton whose excessive celebrations angered Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard (both black) of the Tennessee Titans during the fourth quarter of a Carolina blowout win, of which Titans interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey said “It’s a little rubbing-it-in-your-face type of deal, which there’s a little code of ethics in the NFL. (It’s) not a good move.” The same Cam Newton whose excessive celebration against Green Bay caused Julius Peppers (who is black) to throw the ball away from him.
In fact, if you run a Google News search from August 9 (the Hall of Fame preseason game) through the January 24th Conference Championship game, the search term “Cam Newton criticism” has nothing to say about race, only criticism of Cam Newton’s various antics. Only one article towards the bottom of the first page referenced the supposed hypocrisy of people who criticize Cam Newton’s dancing. According to ESPN’s Robert Flores, people criticize Cam Newton but not Travis Kelce because Travis Kelce is white. Travis WHO? One of the articles referenced admitted:
To be fair here, Kelce certainly doesn’t enjoy the same level of visibility of Newton, so part of the reason no one was talking about his dancing is, well, the fact that no one really talks about Kelce. He’s a good player, but he’s not the quarterback of the league’s only remaining undefeated team.
Uh…yeah, that kind of makes a difference.
Run that same search line “Cam Newton criticism” from January 24 through today, though, and the entire page is loaded with article after article claiming that white America hates Cam Newton because they’re scared of him.
Cam Newton Hate Is Racism? Poppycock!
Smith’s and Chadiha’s criticism is nothing more than a canned stereotype which predominates conversations on race in sports. Any time a black athlete is criticized for being arrogant or cocky it is automatically assumed that race is the underlying and predominant factor.
Actually, it’s far more simple and basic. Fans don’t like arrogant athletes in team oriented sports.
That’s where Johnny Manziel comes in. He’s cut out of the same cloth. A young, cocky player who taunts other teams when he makes a good play and generally puts himself before his teammates. In fact, Sports Illustrated recently named Johnny Manziel the most hated player in the NFL. Why?
Manziel’s bravado rubbed folks the wrong way even before he arrived in the NFL, though, and he took awhile to tone it down once he did. Who can forget him dropping his ‘money sign’ celebration on stage at Radio City Music Hall after the Browns drafted him?
Deserved or not, most of the NFL world was rooting against Johnny Football from the start. Of course, this is nothing new—Manziel’s act pitted him (and Texas A&M) against the world during his college days. After Manziel’s 2013 season-opener for the Aggies (a game in which he was suspended for the first half), former Bears linebacker/Fox Sports 1 analyst Brian Urlacher ripped him: “I’m not saying he’s a punk, but he acted like a punk in that game,” Urlacher said. Tom Brady offered up a similar critique when asked about Manziel’s excitable behavior, saying, “Football’s a physical game … and as [Robert Kraft] would say, ‘If you’re a turd, it’s going to come back to you.'”
So wait. Johnny Manziel (who is white) is a “turd”; but when Cam Newton is criticized it has to do with his skin color. That makes no sense, especially when you consider who is well-liked.
Most Popular player in the NFL: Russell Wilson – QB, Seattle Seahawks
Another one of these young mold-breaking Quarterbacks is Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, who is black, has already been to two Super Bowls. Ironically, Steve Smith’s insinuation that white America prefers the more traditional white Quarterback like Peyton Manning is destroyed by the fact that Russell Wilson beat Peyton Manning two years ago in the Super Bowl and yet he remains very popular among white fans.
In October, CBS Sports ran an article proclaiming Russel Wilson as the most popular player in the NFL based on his volume of merchandise sales.
It’s about the content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin.
Going back to the Steve Smith quote, he said that nobody calls Aaron Rogers (who is white) a “thug.” That’s true, but nobody calls Russell Wilson or Teddy Bridgewater or EJ Manuel or Geno Smith or Tyrod Taylor or Josh Freeman or Tajh Boyd or Travaris Jackson or Marcus Mariota “thugs” either, and none of them are white.
Conversely, when it comes to white Quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel or Jay Cutler or Ben Roethlesberger or even looking into the past at guys like Jim McMahon and Ryan Leaf – they are all hated.
Look at what one writer said of current Chicago Bears Quarterback, Jay Cutler, who typically appears on “Most Hated…” lists among NFL players:
“Whether it’s warranted or not, Jay Cutler just comes off as a bit of a jerk. He’s always got that smug look on his face. His helmet smashes down on his face annoyingly. He just irks people.
Cutler gives glib answers to reporters and has an aura of discontent about him.
Then there are the questions about his toughness. A knee injury caused him to be pulled from the 2010 NFC Championship Game. With Cutler standing on the sideline, even walking around, people questioned his commitment to the team.
He rubs people the wrong way, end of story.”
– John Gilbert, Bleacher Report
ESPN Crafting a Racial Super Bowl Narrative
NBA television analyst Charles Barkley (who graduated from Auburn, the same school as Cam Newton) called out ESPN in an interview last week for trying to craft a racial narrative to this year’s Super Bowl. He said:
“ESPN has already started their crap about black versus white, good versus evil, and I know a lot of those fools over there got radio talk shows. But you can just see their premise and narrative—black versus white, good against evil. It really annoys the hell out of me. We just can’t appreciate the greatness of Peyton [Manning]. And, clearly Cam is on the track to become one of the greatest players ever. But, hey, you can already see them framing the narrative black versus white, good versus evil. And, that’s a problem you have with two weeks in between games.
“They’re both great players, they’re both good guys, but a lot of these fools on ‘ESS-PIN’ got radio shows. The best way to make talk radio good, is to make it racial. You bring in every fool in the world when you bring up race. Because race is a very serious subject. You have so many fools out there, they can’t have an uninspired conversation on race.”
Barkley is right. This is more about ratings and entertainment than a serious conversation about race. But Barkley also said this: “But there is a racial component, to be honest with you, Dan, and I hate that. Because we as black people got way more important crap to worry about than stuff like that.”
What Racial “Component”?
Whether it be Steve Smith or Charles Barkley or anyone else, it seems that a lot of people are inferring racism into the criticism of Cam Newton; but nobody – and I mean nobody – can actually say why. I have already pointed out that Russell Wilson is loved and Johnny Manziel is hated. The most obvious conclusion to make is that fans don’t like me-first attitudes in team driven sports, and that is particularly true at the Quarterback position.
Unfortunately, by turning this into a racial issue and not a character issue, these players and media pundits have once again opened up a can of racial stereotypes and served double portions of lies about institutionalized racism and negative racial stereotypes by which millions of black Americans will be fed and thus influenced. They are actually teaching and reinforcing negative racial stereotypes, not tearing them down. That is not progress, that is not healing, that is a lie.