Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cam Newton flap: part race, part ignorance, part old school

There are two narratives when it comes to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

One is he has evolved into the NFL's best quarterback and the league's most valuable player. The other is he has become the most polarizing figure in sports.

Adored by some, abhorred by many.

There are those who applaud his talents, but others who detest his celebrations.

Some see only his freakish football skills, while others choose to focus on his dance moves.

Depending on your view, he is either the best or worst thing about today's football player.

As he prepares to play in the Super Bowl, Newton was finally asked why some people might have an issue with him.

"I've said this since day one," Newton 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."

He's right. About everything.

We've never seen anything like him. There are no comparisons. We don't know how to react to a 6-foot-5, 245-pound QB with blazing speed who shreds defenses with his arm, legs, power, agility and smarts.

He's also right about the African-American part. We would be naive to think race does not play a role in how he is viewed. Say all you want about the strides made by black quarterbacks, but it's ignorant to believe Newton's skin color makes no difference.

And there is a generational factor, too. It's the older folks who seem to have an issue with Newton's style and personality as compared to younger fans who embrace everything the 26-year-old does. The detractors are those who quote Vince Lombardi and idolize Dick Butkus and say things such as, "In my day ... '' and sound like Clint Eastwood telling you to get off his lawn.

Cam's biggest fans are the kids (and grandkids) of those curmudgeons.

This isn't to say that every old white guy hates Newton. It's also unfair to call you a racist if you don't like Newton. Perhaps you have other reasons. Maybe you're a Bucs fan frustrated over watching Newton crush your team. Maybe you are tired of his dominance and you dislike him the way others dislike Tom Brady or LeBron James simply because he is too good.

But this backlash is real and there has to be more to it than him being really good. The country's response to Newton has become Topic A on national television and radio shows. Former and current players are weighing in. Fans are flooding message boards. Now Newton is being asked about it.

We expect our quarterbacks to act a certain way, to be so-called "professionals,'' to be prim and proper. They're not supposed to dance and jump up and down. Wide receivers and defensive ends dance and we don't care. NBA players pose and make SportsCenter. NHL players go crazy after goals and we cheer with them. Quarterbacks are supposed to be different, right?

But, wait, Brett Favre used to race the length of the field yelling and screaming after scores and no one lost their minds. Joe Namath wore fur coats, stayed out late, did pantyhose commercials and guaranteed a Super Bowl win and became a cult hero. Jim McMahon spiked his hair and wore sunglasses and put on anti-NFL headbands and we thought of him as a cool rebel. Aaron Rodgers did a "championship belt'' celebration and they turned it into those "Discount Double-Check'' commercials.

But Newton does a Superman pose and a harmless TD dance known as "dabbing'' and what do people say? He's a jerk. He's arrogant. He's disrespecting the game and his opponents. He needs to cool it. He needs to act like he has been there before, even though he has never been there before.

How can anyone suggest that race is not an issue?

It feels as if Newton is criticized the way Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, two other prominent black athletes, have been criticized. We can't find anything wrong with their games, so we pick apart everything else, such as how they celebrate.

Newton dances and points "first down'' and gives footballs to fans. So what? Does that make him a bad guy? Are we telling Newton how to enjoy his accomplishments? Are we really suggesting that Newton is a lesser person because he shows more emotion than Roger Staubach or Bart Starr used to?

He isn't rubbing it in his opponents' faces. It's all genuine joy. He shares the glory with his teammates and coaches.

Shouldn't we love the fact that a guy who makes millions still thinks it's exciting to score a touchdown? Doesn't that prove that the game means something to him beyond a paycheck?

Sure, he has an ego, just like every NFL quarterback. That includes his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning, who right now is probably humming the Nationwide Insurance theme while eating a slice of Papa John's pizza in his Buick while rushing home to watch DirecTV on his Sony television, where he might see a Gatorade commercial during a rerun of one of his Saturday Night Live appearances.

In the end, you are allowed to like and dislike whomever you want, but if you dislike Newton because he dances and celebrates first downs and poses for selfies with teammates, then it might be time to put away your rotary phone, get rid of your VCR and join the 21st century.

When you get here, you might to take a moment to set aside your prejudices and old-school attitudes in order to embrace and enjoy one of the best football players you are ever going to see.

If you don't, it will be your loss, not Newton's. Because, I've got news for you: He is here to stay.

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