Guest Post: Cam Newton, We Never Knew You
Just two years ago Cameron Jerrell Newton was on top of the world. Winning football games, scoring touchdowns at will, hanging out with famous rappers (Future and Jeezy) on the sidelines, being named NFL MVP, and leading his team to the Super Bowl, all while dancing and dabbing on the competition. Yes, Cam was essentially untouchable.
Black people everywhere defended and protected Cam against any and all criticism as if we were his offensive line. We needed Cam to stand tall in the pocket and continue doing it "for the culture." We all rose up in arms for Newton when people like Rosemary Plorin, a mother of a then 9 year old daughter and fan of the Tennessee Titans, accused Cam of behaving like a spoiled brat because he would dance and celebrate his touchdowns. Her argument hinged on the idea that because he's a role model, he should do better. Ms. Plorin even went so far as to say that Cam's celebrations caused some sort of group think, controlling the actions Panthers’ supports in the stands. "Some Panthers fans in our section began taunting the hometown fans" she wrote in a letter to Cam. This of course flies in the face of the fact that taunting opposing fans has been occurring at just about every sporting event since the beginning of professional sports. As is often the case with such things, detractors look for any country to bring a star to earth, and supporters look past the weight of gravity acquiescing flaws.
Take it back to a post-game interview handled immaturely after losing the 2016 Super Bowl. Rewind even further, to his college days when he was arrested for stealing another student’s laptop. In both these instances, his actions were defended and explained away. Yes, Cam was our star and we had no problem running under his banner. Until recently, however. In 2016 amid a bevy of racial tension in the US complete with police officers killing unarmed black people, riots and protests, Cam had the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to claim that, "racism is dead." This might have been the moment the first cracks in the armor, in regards to Cam’s place within “the culture,” occurred. The moment when the weight of maintaining the pocket for Newton became too great, and it began to collapse around him.
Having a platform to share ideals from, is not a burden that should be taken lightly. In fact, it is better to not use said platform, than to speak wantonly and cause damage. Cam Newton has shown time and again, that he perhaps should err on the side of silence. In his attempts to use the power of his voice, Cam has not done “us” any favors. When Newton decided he wanted coaching on speaking on issues of race, the Panthers hired Frank Lutz. Frank Lutz, a political consultant with strong ties to Fox News, was brought in to make Cam come off as inoffensive, or vanilla as possible. Seems to be antithetical to the same Cam Newton who spoke about being himself, and doing things his way. In a 2016 interview Cam said, "I am who I am, I know what I'm capable of and I know where I'm going and I don't have to conform to anybody else's wants for me to do. I'm not that guy and I'm happy to say that." The Cameron Newton receiving coaching, and the Cameron Newton of the preceding quote appear to be at odds. Why does he feel the need to go out of his way to make people comfortable? It could be said that by doing so, conforming is exactly what he's doing.
When Cam burst onto the scene, there was a large contingent who weren't ready for what they were seeing. Which was a big black dude, running, throwing, dancing, smiling, and dominating the NFL at the Quarterback position. Beloved overwhelmingly by people of color, who had his back, seemingly at every turn. Perhaps this is why so many were hurt and disappointed by his comments on racism. For the guy who once said "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." It would appear he's made a drastic change in his views." It very well could be that was has changed, is not necessarily his views, but rather the stakes of the games in which he plays. Regardless of his motivation or true feelings, the fact remains, the people who once defended him, to some extent feel betrayed.
- Mike Rhone, @iammikerhone