Late last night, a message popped up on my phone screen: “The Panthers are a team for Black people everywhere.”
The message reflected a sense of pride that had been reverberating across the internet for hours — actually weeks, since most of us realized our teams were hitting the reset button and getting ready for 2016. After the Carolina Panthers routed the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship game and we all realized the Panthers are headed to the Superbowl (to face the Broncos whose top-tier quarterback has looked very mediocre and, well, old this year), Black people everywhere erupted in celebration.
From Cam Newton’s press conference comment about instant grits and collard greens to his posing with popular rappers Future and Jeezy before the game to his endzone dabbing, Cam Newton is not only great, he is unapologetically Black. And, as one Twitter user observed, “Cam Newton [is] out here playing football like he tossin’ the rock in the middle of the street. Having so much fun.” And, from another: “I love how Cam just skips around the field like a carefree Black man.”
Back in 2011, a draft scouting report said Cam was:
Very disingenuous—has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law—does not command respect from teammates and always will struggle to win a locker room. Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness—is not punctual, seeks shortcuts, and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”
This is absurd. Anyone who had ever watched an Auburn game during Cam’s Heisman and National Championship-winning career there would have found the same contagious jubilance, the same fun-loving, championship-caliber quarterback we are watching at the helm of the Panthers now. Contrary to what that Bleacher Reporter observed in 2011, Cam Newton is just out here winning in every sense of the world and having fun while doing it and taking all of Black America — and White America and Yellow America and Brown America and all Americans who are willing to celebrate his success — with him.
He’s steered clear of trouble and controversy. In accordance with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s request that he remain free of tattoos and piercings and maintain a close haircut, Cam has maintained a clean-cut image. Cam doesn’t do anything off the field to justify people’s constant attacks, so those insistent upon hating him focus instead on his dancing in the endzone. Really? Because Rob Gronkowski dances. A lot. Usually while publicly inebriated. So do lots of other players. And no one has a problem with it. But some are still working hard to find reasons to hate Cam Newton. Terry Bradshaw rattled off a list of Peyton Manning’s accomplishments in a post-game question to Cam about going to the Super Bowl. Seriously? He can’t have the moment? It can’t just be about the Panthers and the amazing performance they put on behind their amazing quarterback?
But, for giggles, a side-by-side comparison of Peyton and Cam this season. I’ll even add Brady in for you, for good measure:
And, if the test of an elite athlete is his ability to rise to the occasion when it really counts, last night’s performance comparison certainly should solidify Cam’s place at the grown-up table:
The young quarterback whom some labeled a bust back in 2011 has elevated himself to top-tier status. And (some) people are still acting like it is a fluke, like he isn’t supposed to be here. But the stats say otherwise. A 15-1 season says otherwise.
People like to claim their hatred of Cam is not about race. No one wants to acknowledge that the real problem they have with Cam Newton is his unapologetic Blackness, his swaggering aura of Black male braggadocio. They don’t acknowledge the history of racializing the quarterback position. Decades after integration, the quarterback position is still one dominated by White players. The portrayals and treatment of Black vs. White quarterbacks remain noticeably disparate — to those for whom the portrayals and treatment of White vs. Black people in the country overall are noticeably disparate. (See this article or this one or this one or just do a google search, if you still aren’t convinced.)
I love Patrick Peterson and I would like to see Larry Fitzgerald get a ring and I even really like Bruce Arians. Contrary to my rooting allegiance in the AFC Championship game (Not Tom Brady and the Patriots, moreso than Pro-Peyton Manning and the Broncos), I really would have been okay cheering for the Cardinals if they were facing anyone but the Panthers (I cheered voraciously for them in the divisional round last week). But this year, this moment is Cam’s. With everything that is going on around the country, his infectious (and genuine) smile has given us all a reason to smile right along with him.
To quote another occasional OOB contributor, Lou Moore, “A team lead by Ron Rivera and Cam Newton in this political climate is perfect timing.” And: “If you don’t like Cam Newton, you don’t like football.”