Race matters…because Cam Newton says it doesn’t
I can empathize with Cam Newton if he doesn’t want to be that guy.
You know him.
The one who screws up on the job, draws criticism for it and then blames racism rather than confronting his own shortcomings. Nobody likes that guy because his antics desensitize people to actual racism that demands real remedies.
So if you don’t want to be that guy, Cam Newton, I’m with you.
But do you really want to be this guy?
Yeah that’s way over the top, but I exaggerate to make a point.
Selected first overall in last April’s NFL draft and thrust straight into the starting quarterback’s slot with the Carolina Panthers, Newton faced a steep learning curve — a new offence and a lockout-shortened off-season in which to learn it — and handled the challenge masterfully. Fifteen games in to his first season he has already passed for more yards (3,893) than any rookie in NFL history, and will add to that total in the Panthers’ season finale against the New Orleans Saints.
But for everything the NFL’s quarterback of the future has learned in his rookie year he still hasn’t grasped the vast difference between refusing to use racism as a crutch, which is noble, and ignoring racism where it blatantly exists, which is insulting.
It’s easy to forget as Newton wraps up his record-breaking rookie season, but less than a year ago several NFL draft experts looked past his obvious credentials — 14-0 record as a starter at Auburn, 2,854 passing yards with 30 touchdowns — to decide that he wasn’t even the best quarterback available.
While Mel Kiper looked at Newton and saw Akili Smith 2.0, others labeled Blaine Gabbert the true cream of last year’s crop of quarterbacks. And Pro Football Weekly‘s Nolan Nawrocki? He said Newton’s glaringly tangible assets didn’t outweigh a laundry list of “intangible” liabilities.
Many of us, including NFL Hall of Famer and Newton mentor Warren Moon, saw strong racial overtones in the knee-jerk comparison of Newton to first-round busts like Smith and JaMarcus Russell.
But in a cover story for the latest issue of ESPN Magazine, Newton himself says racism isn’t to blame for the inability of numerous scouts and sportswriters to recognize his potential.
“But I can’t sit up here and look at it like, oh man, my critics are racist,” Newton says. “I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up? I’m trying to be a trailblazer. If Baylor’s Robert Griffin decides to come out, I want people to say ‘He can be the next Cam Newton’ instead of ‘He’s gonna be the next JaMarcus Russell.'”
Again, if Newton is trying to show us that his will to succeed is stronger than racism I’ll grant that his heart is in the right place. But behind his tortured logic lies an unavoidable truth:
In denying the role racism played in last year’s criticism Newton in fact confirms how profoundly racism has shaped people’s perception of him, and how he perceives himself.
Otherwise, why blame Russell and Young for the failures of scouts and sportswriters to judge Newton objectively?
After all, it’s not like Newton said “I blame myself because bad decisions I made at Florida might have tainted people’s opinions of me.”
He said, “I blame JaMarcus Russell and…Vince Young,” as if their failure to fulfill their NFL potential somehow reflects on him.
Which it does, if you’re racist (and there’s still plenty of racism to go around in 21st-century sports media).
A racist takes the worst qualities — real or imagined — of a given member of a racial/gender/cultural group and projects those characteristics onto members of that group he’s never met, and maybe never will…because he’s predisposed to believe the worst about them.
That’s how prejudice works, and Cam Newton’s saying it’s okay.
And if you think like Newton thinks then you should be fine with me slandering Andrew Luck.
I’ve never met the man but I think he’s pampered, a poor natural athlete and an even poorer leader. Don’t talk to me about stats and mechanics; he has a shoddy work ethic because he grew up with money, and therefore has little upside as a pro. In fact, he only stayed at Stanford because, like the marshmallow-soft rich kid he is, he was scared to tackle the challenge the NFL presented.
And if you sense any racist, classist overtones in my rant don’t blame me. Blame Ryan Leaf and, to some degree, Matt Leinart for destroying my ability to judge white quarterbacks as individuals. Those two fell short of their promise, so every white quarterback to graduate from college to the NFL bears their stain.
See how ridiculous the idea sounds when you make the characters white?
About as ridiculous as letting real racism slide because you don’t want to be “that guy.”
And as ridiculous as dragging Robert Griffin III into the debate when he’s done nothing to deserve a spot in this discussion — besides being black, of course.
If you think it’s fair to wonder whether Griffin will blossom into the next Cam Newton instead of crashing and burning into the next JaMarcus Russell, ask yourself if you’ve ever wondered something similar about Andrew Luck.
Does he labour under the burden of trying to become the next Peyton Manning?
Does he worry about not becoming the next Ryan Leaf?
Or is he free to become the first Andrew Luck?
But Griffin doesn’t enjoy that same freedom, and neither did Newton last year.
Can’t-miss pro prospects like them will have to endure tiresome comparisons to flameouts like Russell because when evaluating NFL quarterback prospects race still matters.
No matter what Cam Newton says.
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