How Race Has Played a Role in the Perception of Cam Newton

By Josef Martin

There are many current social issues that are able to both directly and indirectly impact the sports world of the modern era. Recently, this relation between sports and society has been highlighted as a result of the Super bowl matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.

The Super Bowl was not just heavily scrutinized by the general public for its appeal as being the most watched sporting event in the U.S., but also due to the underlying racial debates that came about as a direct result of the matchups. Particularly, with both quarterbacks representing different sides of the debate.

Essentially, Cam Newton, quarterback of the Carolina panthers and current NFL MVP, had received backlash for his on the field celebrations as well as a plethora of comments that he made prior to the big game in regards to being an African American quarterback, which is regarded as a position primarily dominated by white football players.

Based on the reaction from the media and the American public, it was evident that Cam Newton’s race has definitely affected the way people perceived his actions in comparison to non-minority athletes who exhibited the same kinds of behavior and yet received little to no negative reactions. Moreover, Cam Newton being African American and the opposing quarterback, Peyton Manning, being white has also magnified how racial divides that are present within society are just as, if not more evident within sports in the way fans sided with teams solely because of race.

With some using a Super Bowl victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos as the solution to the hatred that most individuals believe will never change. Nonetheless, it is also no illusion that Cam Newton has received an increased level of scrutiny as a result of his on the field celebrations particularly because of his race. One may argue that him choosing to “Dab” and exhibit other forms of showboating during his touchdown celebrations are a representation of an athlete whom lacks class and other traits associated with the role of a “white” quarterback.

However if this was in fact the reasoning for the increased amount of backlash that Cam Newton has received throughout the season, in cases where the athlete is not black, such as J.J. Watt, who dances after tackling opposing players as well as in other instances, receives no reaction and or backlash for these actions. To draw an even closer parallel, a player of the same position who happens to be a white quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, often times chooses to do the “discount Double-Check” after particular plays or Philip Rivers who is known for shouting at the opposing sideline and is also rarely mentioned in the media for their behavior on the field.

As a result of Rodgers’ on the field antics he was even granted a national advertising campaign that was built around his end-zone celebration. Cam Newton has even gone on record to state in a pre Super Bowl interview that “as an African American quarterback, that might scare some people because my skill set isn’t like anybody else.“ Addressing how he has personally taken note of the negative attention he has received and how that directly correlates with him being a black quarterback in today’s society.

Moreover, Cam Newton is also acknowledged for his extensive work within the community, his profound leadership skills, and ability to come back from moments of adversity. This is something that many feel would insight support from the American public seeing as how most individuals who are highly regarded in American society have flaws that make them more relatable and easy to identify with.

However, this is not particularly the case for Cam Newton as his flaws only aid in strengthening the resistance he receives from the public. In response to public criticism Newton went on to state,  “It’s funny, I get inspired — it makes me go out there and practice even harder because I remember when I was working out for the draft. I would see the Senior Bowl playing and I see these guys out there busting their tails trying to get drafted, try to have a job to provide for their family or themselves. And it’s like, here I am, I’m doing exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it and when I look in the mirror, it’s me. Nobody changed me. Nobody made me act a certain type of way and I’m true to my roots.”

It is clear that from Newton’s comments in which he goes into great detail on how he truly feels about the criticism and where he believes that it stems from, one can infer that he has no intention of changing how he conducts himself on and of the field and that he sees no issue in the way he celebrates. Cam Newton also emphasizes that he is living out his days under his own terms.

Warren Moon, a former NFL quarterback and mentor to Cam Newton, stated in an interview that “he wishes he’d enjoyed himself more while playing in the NFL instead of being so reserved all the time.” This could also be an influence on why Cam Newton choses to celebrate after scoring touchdowns and not follow the traditional behavioral roles that many people expect him to.

Regardless of these beliefs by Newton, it will be difficult for Americans to get past a black quarterback having such a charismatic personality and accepting him for an individual who simply would like to just have fun with the game while continuing to win games and stay out of trouble. These discrepancies that are evident in sports, magnify the affect society has on both athletes and sports as a whole and verifies that solely being the most valuable athlete in one’s sport doesn’t necessarily correlate to being regarded as such by the media and the American public when race is a factor.



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