When Cam Newton said before Super Bowl 50, “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people,” it opened the floodgates for the conversation about whether the intense, irrational dislike of Newton by some fans was related to his race.
Newton said it isn’t.
“It’s not racism,” Newton told GQ in a long feature story on him. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.”
It’s a fascinating topic, because clearly some of the ridiculous backlash is racist. There’s a clear double standard for some people when it comes to the things Newton does on and off the field. But some of it would still happen if the confident, outspoken (and insanely talented) Newton was white. I’m not sure what the ratio is. I’m also not sure if Newton believes it has nothing to do with his race, or he didn’t feel like creating a massive controversy through a national magazine profile of him. But Newton is as polarizing as it gets.
Many people love Newton and the excitement he brings to the NFL. But any post I’ve written about Newton this offseason, no matter the subject, someone in the comments has immediately brought up his post-Super Bowl news conference. I’ve never seen an athlete’s interaction with the media bother anyone before. But since it was Newton, people suddenly deeply cared how he treated reporters that day, and still do six months later. Odd, huh?
GQ writer Zach Baron pressed Newton on his “not racism” answer, asking him why there was so much criticism of him.
“I’ll let you be the judge,” Newton told GQ. “I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like some people have certain beliefs, and I have my own belief, and we can agree to disagree on certain things. But this is what makes sports so amazing, that we can start a discussion around a table, in the newspaper, in the magazines, that will get people’s attention. And that’s what sports does.
“I don’t want this to be about race, because it’s not. It’s not. Like, we’re beyond that. As a nation.”
Assuming Newton is an MVP contender again (he will be) and the Panthers are one of the best teams in the NFL again (they will be), Newton will still be the NFL’s center of attention. And all of that attention won’t be positive, whatever the reason.
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