Please excuse the brief interruption in the series "Assessing a Threat". The next article is still being researched and today's topic is about a very current event.
The day started a bit "disheveled" for me as I woke up late. Well let me rephrase that; my 9 year old son that I was supposed to have at school by 8 a.m. woke me up at 8:12. I was reminded of that feeling I used to get when I found myself over-sleeping for day shift. Though initially distraught my son remained composed after being assured that being late would not ruin his perfect attendance record. Nonetheless, it was one of those "oh crap" moments that can start a day off to a not so rousing beginning. So I delivered him to school and returned home to do research while watching two early morning TV programs that I regularly enjoy. And there it was; Cam Newton's comment.
For those who have not seen or heard the interview in its' entirety (and we know the media doesn't usually play the whole thing) Cam was asked why some people still have a problem with his actions, celebrations or behavioral displays on the field. His answer contained the following statement;
"I am an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to".
The TV talking heads jumped all over it. Race, race race! I first saw and heard the comment on the "Mike and Mike" show. Unfortunately, both Mike's had the day off and the one person that regularly comes on that show that I have a lot of faith in (Chris Carter) was not on today. There was a yahoo that I have never heard of that took that one sentence without talking about any of the rest of the statement and turned it into a huge race issue, essentially blaming all of white America for hating on Cam. His statements were so asinine and uninformed basically insinuating that anyone that was not a young, African American was directly responsible for the "Cam haters" existing. First impressions can be a real downer when you take a program and what they are delivering at its' word without all of the context. In my opinion, the show was not well moderated today and a tangent from a person with an agenda allowed the show to be taken in a direction it normally does not go in. The conversation left me in a bit of a funk, even to the point I posted the "serenity prayer" on Facebook giving in to the fact that there are forces in the media that talk race relations but offer no solutions. In fact, there are those (black and white) that routinely stir the pot without offering solutions or positive conversation. If you could wave a magic wand and eliminate race problems from the earth these folks would be out of sight and broke. They will never allow it.
A cup of coffee and a view of the entire interview later in which it was obvious the reporter was "baiting", there was one other statement that Cam made before the one everybody is emphasizing;
"Nothing has changed except we are winning".
This statement was made in response to a question about his progression during his career regarding "maturity". I beg to differ. You do not have to look far to find football fans, even Panther fans, who have criticized Cam during his career for his on field "behavior" or maybe even a better word, antics; from sulking on the sidelines early in his career to not celebrating or participating on the bench with his team mates for instance. The remark about "except we are winning" plays with a lot of folks of all genres in that most of us grew up being sold on good sportsmanship. Signaling "first down" or doing the "Superman" routine when you are 4-12 and losing by 3 touchdowns is not how America has been taught to play the game. Even today in our "everybody gets a trophy" society the emphasis is on fair play and not being competitive to the point you will "hurt other people's feelings". Cam's actions are not hated because he is black; they are disliked because he is a hot dog that is not on their team. He is not the first.
Joe Namath; guaranteed a win in Super Bowl 3, enjoyed the New York night life and wore white shoes when the rest of his team mates wore black. Hot dog. Bret Favre; running up and down the field like an idiot. Hot dog. Kenny Stabler. Hot dog. Julian Edelman? At the moment far and away the worst for me and it's not even close; hot dog. Hot dogs in sports come in all shapes, sizes and yes, colors. They are also divided into "hero" and "villainous" hot dogs depending on your allegiances.
For instance, the entire country even has differing views of today's living legends Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Peyton does great commercials and is not very demonstrative on the field. Brady yells at refs, yells at his coaches on the sidelines and gives the impression to everyone but Patriot fans that he is a brat. He also is very private away from the field giving little insight into his personality off the field and plays for a coach that mumbles and is condescending in press conferences on a good day. Brady also is probably the best quarterback in history based on his numbers and team results but will always play second fiddle for most folks to Joe Montana (or in my case, Johnny Unitas). Why? The perception is that on the field to most everyone except Patriot fans is that Brady is a "villainous" hot dog.
There are still Panther fans that wish Cam would tone it down a bit that are from the old school of not showing up your opponent (the first down thing is a bit much for me, not just Cam but all of the players that do it. You don't even get points for first downs). Winning does make a difference but has that made more of a difference in perception to Panther fans than being engaged on the sideline with his team mates, not sitting by himself with a towel over his head at the end of games or handing a football to a youngster at the culmination of a touchdown celebration? If Cam's position is that winning has made him more fan friendly and happy then so be it. But from a position of fan perception which is all most fans have he has displayed a different attitude the past 2 seasons on the field. He seems more engaged with his team mates, fans, media; he is more mature. He is also a much improved quarterback, period! No adjectives needed.
The second show, "First Take" brought more perspective. I am not a Skip Bayless fan but am a fan of Stephen A. Smith. This show (probably because the stars of the show were present) brought more relevant discussion about the issue. Stephen A. as well as Skip, LeSean McCoy and Ryan Clark talked about perceptions of this issue with regards to race as well as differing ones within the white and black communities based on life experiences. They spoke of "perceived behavioral expectations" with regards to the position of quarterback, team leader and even fan bases. I didn't necessarily agree with everything Clark and McCoy (one former and one current player) said; for instance, the reason Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson do not dance in the end zone is only because they can't dance. That didn't stop folks like Mark Gastineau, Rob Gronkowski or BJ Raji. Overall the insight they offered was more constructive to healing race relations. The best point of all was made by Stephen A. and agreed to by Ryan and LaSean. He stated that respect is given in the black community when white folks are willing to have open discussions about race without fearing reprisal from those who would try to mischaracterize their intent. I agree. Most white folks that do not have life experiences to guide them have no idea what to say or how to even ask a question and are scared of making a mistake. They fear being unintentionally offensive and choose to simply remain quiet because of those fears. The point was also made that black folks need to be receptive to dialogue as well. Differing opinions or perceptions by white folks are not always racist; in fact most of the time they're not intended to be that way. However, with the constant reminders from a media and politicians all too happy and desperate to fan the flames it is becoming more difficult instead of easier to have productive discussions and promote healing among ourselves. This issue was presented this morning to be about race; in my opinion it has been sensationalized and made to be about race instead of being about perceptions of fans, supporters and beat writers of other teams that simply do not like Cam rubbing their faces in it.
Ask the Tennessee Titans how they feel about Cam's celebrations. Those weren't white players confronting him in the end zone. Who knocked Terrell Owens off the Dallas star at midfield when he celebrated scoring against them? Troy Aikman? No, it was Emmett Smith.
Most of the NFL fans over the age of 35 or so (in other words, the majority) were raised in a time where Jim Brown and Barry Sanders simply handed the ball to the refs when they scored; or in the words of our elders "they acted like they had been there before". It's not race that defines a hero or villain "hot dog" yet once again that is what the media has thrown at us. Carolina fans as well as fans of kids getting footballs find Cam's celebrations "fun loving" and an "expression of who he is" just like Cam does. To victim teams and their fans he is the evil villain; a showboat with no sportsmanlike values or even resembling a lower human orifice. He is not the first disliked hot dog in the NFL; not even the first black one. He is however, the current most talked about hot dog and is on the center stage of the biggest sporting event in the world.
Does Cam Newton believe that fans dislike him because he is black? Maybe. He was not asked that directly. Are there fans that dislike him because he is black? I'll answer that one; probably. But to promote one statement and present it as what "white America" thinks is irresponsible. How are we to get past the dialogue issue if we keep allowing such characterizations to be perpetrated?
Times change and so do perceptions. A lot of fans will always be uncomfortable with demonstrative celebrations based on what they were taught; sportsmanship, win with class and team first. Younger fans enjoy such acts of celebration. After all, the NFL is about entertainment.
Sports fans rarely get to personally know players. All they know is what they see. Do they see a black guy that scares them because of the way he exuberantly celebrates every positive play he makes? Or do they see a player on an opposing team that is "showing up" their team? The leap to "race" is a big one here. I hope it does not continue to dominate what should be a Panthers coronation as Super Bowl champs!
As for me; pass the mustard!