Cam Newton can’t win the battle of public perception, on either side.
Going into his sixth season as the Carolina Panthers quarterback, the biggest challenge of his career may be on the horizon, and it has nothing to do with football. But he should be use to that by now.
For much of Cam Newton career, his public persona has been as much the topic of conversation as has his play on the field. Whether it was getting kicked off of the University of Florida Football team his freshmen year to his play for pay scandal surrounding him during his Heisman trophy and National Championship winning year as an Auburn Tiger.
Those college issues seemed to follow him into the NFL. While he was a major reason of the Carolina Panthers improvement on the field, his attitude and demeanor off it seem to grab just as many headlines.
His resume said something different though, for a four year starter inheriting a 2-14 team, Cam Newton exceeded expectations. The Carolina Panthers became an exciting team with Cam Newton as it’s signal caller. He led the team to six, seven before a 12-4 season in his third year. While the team reverted back to just seven wins the following the season, those seven wins were enough to get the team in the playoffs for back to back seasons. The first time ever in the teams history.
He was excelling individually as well, posting career highs for completion percentage and touchdowns in his third year, while also tying a career low 12 interceptions in his fourth year. It was also Newton maturation down the stretch of the 2014 season that helped lead the Panthers to four straight wins, a playoff berth and the franchise’s first playoff victory since the 2005 season.
Entering the 2015 season though, Cam Newton in the eyes of any experts was simply a 30-31 quarterback. A spectacular talent that some wondered if he could ever “put it altogether”. Put it together is what he did indeed.
Cam Newton had his best year as a professional. The former first overall pick threw for a career 35 touchdowns while rushing for another 10. He was also instrumental in leading the Carolina Panthers, alongside a vaunted defense to a 15-1 record and the teams second ever Super Bowl appearance.
As the season progressed and the wins continued to pile up. So did the criticism of Cam Newton and his creative touchdown dances. The winning continued and so did the backlash to the dances.
Then Super Bowl week came and the roller coaster started to go downhill.
Right before leaving for the Super Bowl Cam Newton made the comments that “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.”
That is a video of a very introspective, nuanced and articulate Cam Newton speaking about what it means to be an African American quarterback. The above video clip was from January 28 2016. Nearly seven months later and it seems like Cam Newton has had a change of heart.
In a GQ article that was posted online Monday, Cam Newton was asked about race in the United States and that’s where all the issues began. Now, if you haven’t read the article you might want to do so, but for those who haven’t and won’t. Here’s what you need to know about the article.
The reporter, a white male – Zach Baron made it pretty clear that Cam Newton wasn’t feeling the direction of the conversation on race. Now before his exchange with Newton, the writer gets a quote from Cam’s longtime backup Derek Anderson. Anderson calls comments directed at Cam in the public eye “flat-out” racist.
Now here’s how the writer sets up the scene next between him and Cam.
“Maybe he just didn’t feel like participating in the whole economy of outrage that surrounds him today. Actually, I know he didn’t feel like it, because this is how the rest of this conversation goes:
Then Cam Newton gave the quote that his made him Monday’s enemy of the day.
Newton: “I don’t want this to be about race, because it’s not. It’s not. Like, we’re beyond that. As a nation.”
Baron: You really think so?
Newton: “Yeah. I mean, you bring it to people’s attention. But after that, that’s it.”
I can’t stress it enough but Newton is entitled to his opinion whether we agree or not. Something that’s even more important to stress is that it’s not his responsibility to speak on matters of race, whether we agree or not. Would it be nice? Of course. Is it mandatory? No.
Cam Newton is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
When he points out the factors race plays in how he’s viewed as a quarterback he’s told to be quiet and just play football by one segment of the culture. When he tries to deflect and not talk about race, he receives backlash from another segment of the culture.
That is the world of Cam Newton.
Never good enough for everybody, just enough to be criticized by some and always enough to be the topic of conversation.
Newton has faced bigger obstacles in his past and overcome them, this just happens to be the latest one.