“I’ve said this since day one. I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare it to.” — Cam Newton
Cam Newton is a damn fine football player. He’s handsome as hell too. And he celebrates the glory of it all on and off the field. And yet, there are a lot of people—a majority of this country if what you read on the internet is representative—who hate him for it.
The reality is they hate themselves. The reality is we’re racist as we ever were…and getting worse.
But you know this. Cam knows this. Everyone in the midst of posting every little drip of poison they can eek from tiny minds through their anonymous fingertips and out into the void of worthless zeros and ones—knows this. We’re no closer to healing or to being heard than we are to having an actual conversation where one side listens and the other side considers…and gives, in turn, an educated and open and measured response back.
That’s not who we are. At least, that’s not who we’ve become.
I applaud Newton for what he’s trying to do off the field: The least convenient thing a prominent black athlete can do when the spotlight is shining brightest on him is engage in a discussion about race. Super Bowl week isn’t the time we want to be reminded about how fucking backwards we are. It’s a time for lanyards and celebrity and endorsement and corporate takeover. Want a discussion on race? Point to the man who’s occupied the White House for the better part of a decade and say “score board” and move on.
February, the month that hosts the Super Bowl, is also Black History Month—and so the somnolent scribes will roll out obligatory Newton comparisons with the great black quarterbacks of yesterday and today: James Harris and Marlin Briscoe to Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. Steve McNair to Michael Vick and Jameis Winston to Tyrod Taylor. Even the pair who’ve won Super Bowls themselves, Doug Williams and Russell Wilson, occupy the same sentence but aren’t nearly as lionized nor reviled as Newton.
The most enlightened of media, regardless of race, have a difficult time not comparing standout athletes based on ethnicity. But for a handful of fantasy football breakdowns and one ESPN missive about Newton v. Brady for MVP, where are the comparisons across color lines? Are we so dug in, either side, that The Black Quarterback will continue to occupy the same segregated wing for all time?
I had the rare privilege this week of sharing the stomach flu with my 20-month-old son which resulted in a Pedialyte/water cocktail for him and Gatorade/7-up for me over a heaping helping of that ridiculous ESPN morning show entitled First Take featuring Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith yelling over one another the issues of the day. The only worthy punishment for this unrelenting dross other than the two having to face off against one another for eternity (with Trump as moderator) would be forcing each to hear his own playback through all space and time. Preferably in a Guantanamo-like setting. The Sisyphean task that co-host/moderator Molly Qerim must endure to sit there and smile over this happy hour drivel gone two beers south of relevant on the daily makes me wonder if she’s simply biding her time till a primetime gig drawing cartoons in her head of the ways she’d love to see this unsightly, uncreative, polycephalic monster perish.
Digressions aside, the episode I endured featured the issue of Newton’s comments for the majority of its interminable run time. Since neither Bayless nor Smith has written or gesticulated, or as much as coughed up on a cocktail napkin an original or clever thought since the first Bush administration (I’m talking about George H.W.) it came as no surprise that they stuck to the basic talking points: That Newton is a showoff of herculean proportions and—if viewed incorrectly—can add to negative stereotypes of his race. Bayless unintentionally came to Newton’s rescue a little bit and said no. 1’s shenanigans on the field were an extension of sorts to Brett Favre’s exuberance for the game from back in the day before he was taking dick picks and whoring himself out to the Vikings. …But then undid it all by ripping Favre.
The real point was missed: Newton is playing a sport that should pique your interest around age 12—throw a ball, run with a ball, catch a ball; celebrate if nobody knocks you down before you get to the safe part of the field—should also be full of fun.
Cam Newton is not busting up ISIS. He’s not rescuing bomb victims in Damascus. He’s not stumping to commute the sentences of more than two million non-violent drug-related first-time offenders behind bars in America. He’s not even protesting a third season of True Detective or lobbying the town council of New Haven, Connecticut to have a Karen Carpenter statue erected.
He’s playing a child’s game and doing it with, well, the enthusiasm and purity of a child.
Let him sing and dance and laugh and pretend he’s a superhero. And let him make those who argue against that—because he’s a black man doing it—look all the more foolish. You may feel he’s mocking you or the sport, but what he’s really doing, if you want to know, is allowing someone growing up right now in a situation much much worse than yours in spite of odds too great to merit consideration—to believe that he or she can too.