Coming out of Auburn University, many NFL draft pundits doubted both his ability and character. The NCAA investigation, coupled with the style of offense run at Auburn, made many wonder if he could “make it” in the NFL. Skip Bayless of ESPN was quoted as saying, “Tim Tebow is a much more accurate thrower of the football than Cam [Newton] will ever be.” Pete Prisco of CBS was quoted as saying, “After breaking down Christian Ponder and Cam Newton on tape, I would take Ponder over Newton. That’s just me.” Bayless also tweeted that he thought Josh Freeman was the better option at quarterback for “[the] next ten years.” It’s 2016 now, and having come off his first Super Bowl loss, Cam Newton is the most valuable player in the NFL, Tim Tebow is a sports analyst, Josh Freeman warms the bench for the Colts, and Christian Ponder hasn’t played since 2014.
It’s safe to say that Cam is here to stay, yet he can’t seem to escape the visceral hatred and criticisms of both his play and character. It has become increasingly difficult to debate his skills as a football player (he threw 35 touchdowns, ran for ten, only threw ten interceptions, had an average quarterback rating of 99.4, had 3,837 yards in the air, 636 on the ground, and led his team to a super bowl appearance — all with his best wide receiver sidelined with a season-long injury); however, many have looked to criticize how he plays the game.Cam Newton is a passionate person. His smile radiates through his shining silver helmet. He looks to celebrate his merits often with his teammates. After every touchdown he scores, he makes sure to give the football he scored with to a young fan in the front row. The “dab,” a dance move associated with the song, “Look at My Dab” by the Atlanta based rap group Migos, was made extremely popular by Cam Newton during the 2015 NFL season, as he often used the dance to celebrate positive plays (usually touchdowns). The dance (as well as Cam’s happy-go-lucky demeanor on the field) was a target for many across the United States.
Cam Newton’s signature “dab” celebration
A mother complained that it was a display of “poor sportsmanship” for her daughter. Many other pundits asked him to stop, and many more liked to remind us that “not once have I seen Manning, Brady, Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger act like this.” After Newton’s loss in Super Bowl 50, some popular Facebook comments reminded us that “class always wins over flash!” Bill Romanowski, former NFL player, remarked on Twitter, “You will never last in the NFL with that attitude. The world doesn’t revolve around you, boy! #CamNewton.”
Yes, Bill Romanowski referred to 26-year-old NFL MVP Cam Newton as “boy.” Anyone who has a modicum of an understanding of race relations in the United States knows that referring to a black man as boy is extremely demeaning and has roots in hundreds of years of brutal institutionalized racism. Is everyone who dislikes Cam’s style racist? Not necessarily. Does Cam Newton face an unfair amount of criticism because of his skin color? Yes, he does.
White players like Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski are known for their signature dance moves like the “Discount Double Check” and Gronkowski’s emphatic spikes, affectionately known as the “Gronk Spike.” People do not complain. No one refers to them as “boy.” In 1985 the Chicago Bears released a rap song called the “Super Bowl Shuffle” three full months before they actually even played in the game, in which Jim McMahon, the Bears’ white quarterback, referred to himself as “the punky QB known as McMahon.” People were not upset. No one wrote letters to newspapers calling for Jim McMahon to stop being passionate about football. When Brett Farve used to run 60 yards down the field after throwing a touchdown people called him a “lover of the game,” when Cam Newton does it, he’s “showboating.”
In Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton and his Panthers lost a defensive battle to the Denver Broncos, giving Peyton Manning his second championship. After the defeat, scores of media outlets lambasted Cam with article titles like, “Cam Newton goes from Superman to Incredible Sulk in poor postgame showing” and “Cam Newton, Face of Panthers, Showed Zero Grace in Defeat.” An article by Michael Powell in the New York Times referred to Cam’s actions in the face of defeat as “like a 13-year old.” The man had just lost the most important game of his life, and was not particularly happy or interested in explaining how or why he lost in post-game interviews. He did, however, congratulate Peyton Manning on winning with his trademark smile “in the face of defeat.” Ironically enough, in 2010, when Peyton Manning stormed off of the field after losing to the Saints, there was no media storm, there was no ESPN “First Take” segment dedicated to it. One article simply referred to the reaction as “his competitive fire getting to him.”
Despite the fact that it’s been 28 years since a black quarterback first won a Super Bowl, a stigma still surrounds the position. Cam Newton may not have won the Super Bowl (yet), but he is undoubtedly inspiring millions of young Americans to be fierce competitors, take pride in their accomplishments, and better yet, be kind hearted people… and have some fun along the way.
Images Via, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, Getty, AP