Some people dislike Cam Newton, and you have to wonder what role race plays in that.
To be fair, a lot of people love the Carolina Panthers quarterback too. He is an incredible player who will likely be named NFL MVP next week. If you were starting a franchise from scratch and could choose any NFL player, Newton would be a fine pick. He plays the game with a joy and a passion that any fan should want from their NFL stars, pretty much the same way Brett Favre did it.
Yet, there are pundits and faction of fans who criticize Newton, going all the way back to some scathing pre-draft reviews. Even his seemingly slam-dunk MVP candidacy this season was a hot debate, with some fans coming up with many reasons why he wasn't really the MVP. But why?
“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,” Newton said, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Newton has never pulled punches, so why start before Super Bowl 50?
In one way Newton is correct. We have never seen anything like him. Newton is a huge quarterback who also moves like a great running back. But before you typecast him as a mobile quarterback, he also has an absolute cannon of an arm. And as his career has progressed, he has become less likely to scramble out of the pocket. Carolina designs runs to take advantage of Newton's skill set, and Newton has the ability to take off and run if a pass play breaks down, but the way he plays is truly unique.
He's much bigger than Michael Vick or Fran Tarkenton, who were great runners. He's big like Ben Roethlisberger, but Roethlisberger doesn't have Newton's running ability. Newton has the type of power arm that Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford are lauded for, but neither have produced the kind of success Newton did this season. Daunte Culpepper might be a decent comparison, but Culpepper didn't last long among the NFL's elite because a knee injury shortened his peak.
Newton is the total package at quarterback, with the perfect size and skills you'd want if you were creating a quarterback on "Madden." There has never been anyone like him before, a wonderful passer who is also his team's best goal-line runner (and maybe best runner period). That's why Newton has a Heisman Trophy, college national championship, soon will have an NFL MVP and could have a Super Bowl ring in a couple weeks. No quarterback has ever collected all four of those things. He also has a junior college title, an NFL offensive rookie of the year award, and a few dozen other deserved accolades.
But still Newton isn't universally beloved, and that has been the case for a while. However, we should also wonder if too much attention is paid to a small percentage of people who will loudly complain (trust me, I hear from them every time I write about Newton) about dabbing and ripping down banners and whatnot, and who create stupid online petitions to get attention and try to knock him off his pedestal.
“It’s funny we still fight that battle based on what? All he’s done when he came in his rookie year…he had a dynamic rookie year,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “He was NFL (Offensive) Rookie of the Year. He’s been in conversations every year for awards. This year he’s in the conversation for MVP. I still don’t get why he has to (be criticized). And maybe there are some people out there who are concerned with who he is, which I think is terrible. I really do.
“You think in this time, this day and age, it would be more about who he is as an athlete, as a person more than anything else. Hopefully we can get past those things."
Is it just race? It's always hard to say definitively what causes an athlete to be polarizing. And there have been white quarterbacks who have drawn a ton of undeserved scorn ( Philip Rivers and Tony Romo are among those nodding). Don't underestimate how the SEC rivalries might play a part in people liking or disliking Newton. Newton carved up the conference his only season at Auburn, and nobody takes their football rivalries more seriously. Also, for many people, their first real exposure to Newton was the scandal over his father allegedly taking money during his recruitment from Blinn Junior College. Some people, for whatever reason, don't believe college athletes should receive money while they make millions for the schools they play for. That was the first impression of Newton to many, and that can stick around.
There is the question about his skill set, which Newton mentioned. The NFL is very stuck in its ways and Newton is a different quarterback. The part of Newton's quote in which he says there's nobody to compare him to is true. It's hard to put him in a box and compare him to Joe Montana or John Elway or Favre. Would a white quarterback who was 6-5, 245 pounds (and I think that's set a little low) who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash with great running skills and the ability to throw 60 yards off his back foot be treated the same as Newton?
But it's also foolish to ignore that Newton's race probably plays a large role in whatever silly criticism he gets.
On paper you'd think Newton would be the most popular player in the NFL. He has won at every level (even if Carolina doesn't win Super Bowl 50, carrying the Panthers to an NFC title five years after they went 2-14 is pretty darn good), he has been productive, extremely exciting, has done great things in the Charlotte community, is developing as a leader and a player and plays the game the right way.
There's nothing to be scared of, really. Embrace the NFL's best and most interesting player. If you're sitting around complaining about Newton for whatever reason, you're missing out on a heck of a football player.
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