I applauded last week when Cam Newton said being an African American quarterback with his skills scares people. He said what many Black people were thinking – Newton gets undo criticism because he’s Black. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that his comments only scratched the surface.
Newton’s good, but he isn’t the first good Black quarterback. He’s not the first black quarterback to go to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson and RG3 are talented, but they haven’t faced the same scrutiny.
Newton, however, is the subject of a Change.org petition. An angry Seattle fan urging he be banned from their stadium for being “one of the most unsportmanlike quarterbacks in the NFL.” The petition received more 2,385 signatures before it was closed.
Other angry fans write letters to the editors, which become news stories.
What makes Newton so different?
Newton scares people because he isn’t the good negro. He isn’t Russell Wilson promising celibacy. Nor is he RG3’s who was known for letting his mother braid his hair before a game. Newton is hip-hop in a league where quarterbacks are typically country music, even Christian music. They’re vanilla.
Just last week, Newton face-timed rapper Young Thug during a live interview on our sister station. On the sidelines, before the NFC Championship game he posed for pictures with Young Jeezy and Future.
Newton is the manifestation of the culture’s swagger.
Hip-hop is unapologetic. Hip-hop is brash. Hip-hop is a shutdown cornerback. Hip-hop takes us outside of our comfort zone – whether we like it or not. Newton brings that swagger to the field, and that doesn’t scare people. It makes them angry.
Running backs, cornerbacks and wider receivers are allowed to be hip-hop. Think Neon Deon, Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. or our own Josh Norman.
Quarterbacks are supposed to lead with quiet strength not hip-hop bravado. Quarterbacks don’t wear Versace zebra print pants to the Super Bowl. They don’t rip down opponents’ signs. The don’t have a child out-of-wedlock (Although, Tom Brady had one nearly a decade ago). But they definitely, definitely don’t dance after a touchdown.
Newton has danced his way into an NFC Championship, a Super Bowl and likely an MVP title.
“Whether you win, lose or draw, people are going to talk,” Newton said in the race press conference (that he later said wasn’t about race). “People are going to judge and have their own opinion on certain things that I don’t have control over nor does anybody else.”
It’s unfortunate because Newton’s transformation into a leader of the Panthers has been remarkable. His maturity is a story that is usually celebrated. Even if the Panthers stomp Denver on Sunday and Newton wins the MVP, haters are gonna hate. And Newton’s is just gonna brush his shoulders off and keep dabbing.
As coach Ron Rivera put it: “He’s going to be who he is.”