In the 1996 cinematic thriller A Time To Kill, the talented actor Matthew McConaughey played the character Jake Tyler Brigance, a small town young white lawyer chosen to defend a middle aged black man for murder in a fictional racially divided Mississippi town. Toward the climatic ending to this film, Brigance in a desperate attempt to win a case that had odds stacked greatly against it, asked the jury to close their eyes for a brief moment. Now, at this very moment I will ask that you close your eyes like the twelve jurors did for Brigance.
Now that your eyes are ”closed”, imagine this 6’6″ 250 pound quarterback from the University of Auburn, by way of junior college. Imagine this quarterback winning the coveted Heisman Trophy his first year as the starting quarterback for the Tigers. Imagine him being scrutinized and having his ability to be a leader of men by those that are paid handsomely to evaluate the abilities of potential pro prospects. Imagine him passing for the most yards in NFL history by a rookie. Imagine his rushing yardage total topping all rookie quarterbacks that came before him. Imagine being labeled a malcontent. Imagine his new $100 million contract being called “unwarranted”. Imagine him getting negative feedback because his way of playing the position of quarterback is deemed unconventional. Imagine him leading his team to the Super Bowl but having his method of celebrating his team’s success be the what the world wants to focus on leading up to the big game… Now imagine he is white!
For the second time in the franchise’s history, the Carolina Panthers will play in what is the mecca of all sporting events, the Super Bowl, on Sunday, February 7th. Quarterback Cam Newton has been a lightening rod of controversy throughout his time in the NFL and also dating back to his days as backup to Heisman Trophy winner and Football Messiah Tim Tebow at the University of Florida for two seasons. Accused of pilfering a laptop computer from a fellow student, Newton escaped all charges that were brought against him and bolted on the next train leaving Gainesville heading west to the small town of Brenham, Texas and Blinn Junior College. It would be there that he would go on to showcase the talents that had the likes of Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops asking for his services his final season of high school football. Auburn gladly accepted the dual threat, yet controversial quarterback as he committed to the Tigers on New Year’s Eve of 2009.
One runaway Heisman Trophy coronation followed by the hoisting of the trophy that’s presented to college football’s national champions later, the struggling Panthers franchise was faced with the tough decision of putting the franchise in the hands of a young man who had shown the propensity to not make the most sound of judgements. Then if that wasn’t caution enough, the question amongst many GM’s throughout the league was if Newton could conform to the prototype standards to which they love to measure potential signal callers against. His accuracy as a passer was called out by many. Not that they weren’t throwing a substance against the wall to see if it would indeed stick either. All Newton did was complete 66.1% of his passes in the tough Southeastern Conference. Through it all, Newton was able to overcome all the critics who took a fine toothed comb to his game and became the #1 Overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
As we move ahead into the fifth season of his NFL career which has been filled with plenty of highs and lows, Newton sits today just one win away from become the first quarterback to complete the trifecta of Heisman winner, college national championship winner and Super Bowl champion. That almost improbable feat should be the focus as he leads his 15-1 NFC Champion Panthers against the AFC’s representatives, the Denver Broncos, with their first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
Instead we are subjected to America taking an issue with his celebratory “In Yo Face” style of play. “Cocky”, “Brash”, “Disrespectful to the game” are just some of the quotes being spewed from the hatred of seeing this player, who happens to be African American, dominating the game in a manner unlike any we have seen before this magical MVP-to-be season. The jeers weren’t as loud last season as he led a mediocre Panther team into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. It was safe to assume that they were not getting past more superior teams in the conference like Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas. No threat at that point to hoist the George Halas Trophy.
Seems that as the Panthers were dismantling the two-time NFC Super Bowl representative Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round of the playoffs, Newton’s touchdown celebration, The Dab as it is known in the world of Hip Hop, seems to have all of a sudden gotten under the skin of middle America. Now that encompasses a lot of people from different ethnicities, maybe I should narrow it down to those who are not of the same ethnic background as Newton. Specifically those of Anglo decent. Somehow a “choreographed” celebration that takes all of 1.3 seconds to complete has them up in arms. The same folks who were probably in their homes doing the less than hip celebration of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from a few years back. What celebration you ask? Well the one he unleashed to the viewing public in access of 35 times just a few seasons back. Newton has Dabbed only when he has scored on his 10 rushing touchdowns. Yet to those who aren’t like him, it has to feel like he did it 1,000 times. Maybe if he had Dabbed also on ever one of his 35 touchdown passes, maybe Geico or All State would have extended the opportunity to him to Dab on a series of commercials like State Farm did for Rodgers.
I was tuned into an nationally syndicated sports talk show on last week. The topic for multiple segments was Cam Newton’s lack of respect for the game. Mostly all the callers appeared to have been somewhat afraid that a touchdown celebration was gonna somehow infiltrate their homes and lead their kids astray. One caller had the audacity to ask why Cam couldn’t be more like Warren Moon, Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham… you know, respectful black quarterbacks. The kind that didn’t go to the extremes that Cam does to show his passion and excitement for the game. The kind who wouldn’t do a dance after doing something so routine like scoring a touchdown.
I wanted to call in and school the out of touch callers on the difference in temperament with a young black man born in the 1950’s like Moon and Williams were as opposed to a young black kid born in 1989 like Newton was. The history of the league’s reluctance to give a black quarterback a fair shot to play the position is well known. No need to waste precious key strokes on that. When the likes of Moon and Williams came along and were given the reigns to the teams they were on, they fought against all the preconceived notions about the black quarterback. He isn’t intelligent enough. Lacks discipline to lead a team. Couldn’t be the face of a franchise, etc. They knew that if they were to kill that stereotype, being anything more than robotic in their approach to the game would work against themselves and for all the black quarterbacks who would follow. Being young boys, yet old enough to clearly recall the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, a certain way of conducting themselves in the company of whites was preached in their homes. A more sub-servant tone of interactions were exemplified the guys from that era.
Cam Newton is too young to even vividly remember the Dallas Cowboys last Super Bowl appearance in 1996. He was reared in a totally different time. Like most who were born in his era, conforming to what the “masses” feel is acceptable behavior is not at the top of their ‘Things To Do’ list. They don’t care what you think of them. Have you seen some of the outfits these youngsters don in front of cameras that they know will bring attention to themselves? The self promoting bravado in sports is what they grew up watching. Seeing Deion Sanders high stepping into the end zone, followed by a choreographed dance step was all the rave to young kids in the inner-cities across America.
Cam has an almost cult-like following amongst the Hip Hop culture. That is what separates him in the eyes of ‘White America’ from the likes of say a Russell Wilson. Wilson is safe. Clean cut, articulate and more important, doesn’t have a hip touchdown celebration dance. Russell Wilson is not what is considered the norm in the culture of today. He fits perfectly with Moon and Williams era three decades ago though. More when those black quarterbacks didn’t “disrespect the game” by bringing their arm to a 90 degree angle and sorta bowing their heads into the fold of the arm after a touchdown. Rodgers “Double Check” move appeared to bring the focus of his celebration to the pelvic area. Obviously not disrespectful to middle America however.
Cameron Newton will be the focus of all the multiple pregame shows come Sunday leading up to kickoff of Super Bowl 50. Let’s hope that talk will be the remarkable season he has had up to this point. A sure-to-be named MVP season. Not how he has single-handedly ruined the sport of football and society in general by a touchdown celebration. I asked you at the beginning of this article to close your eyes and imagine a series of actual occurrences like Jake Brigance did in the movie A Time To Kill. Close them again and imagine Cam Newton scoring the winning touchdown in the waning seconds of the game. Imagine it’s a rushing touchdown. Imagine he didn’t Dab. Imagine instead he pulled a Rodgers and did the ‘Discount Double Check’ move. Now open your eyes middle America. Times have changed. Dab on ‘Em Sunday Cam.