Why Scott Zolak’s take on Cam Newton is a real problem

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As a football film junkie, I’ve found the “Belichick’s Breakdowns” segments on the Patriots’ official website and YouTube channel to be appointment viewing for years. These are videos in which former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak watches tape of the most recent game with Bill Belichick, and anytime you can get in the head of the greatest coach in NFL history… well, that’s good stuff.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Zolak is going to be known for from now on. In a recent radio segment, Zolak insisted that Cam Newton is distracted by rap music playing during the team’s practices.

“I’d turn off the rap music first of all,” Zolak said on 98.5 “The Sports Hub,” via TMZ. “Because I think it’s distracting for Cam here. Because in between every throw, he’s dancing.

“He can’t help himself, to where Mac [Jones] looks like he came to work again. Like, he’s here to work. And everything’s attention to detail. It’s nothing different.”

The host of the show tried to bail Zolak out, saying that it would be more noteworthy if Newton was doing something at practice he hadn’t done before. Zolak was undeterred, and went on to speculate that in the battle for the starting job between Newton and Jones, “you need one more look at Cam to have confidence in your decision that, you know what? I’m going with Mac here. I need to see that Cam didn’t take the five days off serious[ly], that he came out and he’s still jacking around… it just looks like Mac came to work today, and he didn’t.”

As they say, there’s a lot to unpack here. No Patriots coach or player has ever, to our knowledge, said anything negative about Newton’s preparation for games. Not this year, not last year when Newton was shelled by limited prep time in a new offense and his own issues with COVID. That Newton missed time this preseason with a misunderstanding about the team’s and the NFL’s COVID protocol? If you want to take issue with that, perhaps that’s warranted. But to extrapolate Newton’s reaction to any kind of music (we’re guessing Zolak would be totally cool if Newton was dancing to Bon Jovi between reps) is a reach at best, and shoddy opinionating at worst.

And to assume that a Black quarterback isn’t taking his job seriously, while a white quarterback is far more prepared based on nothing but appearance? Given the history of denigration of Black athletes and specifically Black quarterbacks over time for no other reason than skin color and discomfort with unfamiliar cultures? Zolak has an absolute responsibility to understand what the optics are there. Because this is a different version of the same kinds of garbage we’ve heard about Black quarterbacks for far too long.

Of course, this is the same Scott Zolak who once insisted that Russell Wilson wasn’t a real quarterback, so… I got nothing there.

We wonder if Zolak ever had a problem with stuff like this. Because, clearly, no quarterback can ever be completely prepared for a game if he’s dancing around to rap music during practice. Certainly no Patriots quarterback. History shows us that.

In all seriousness, Zolak, as a high-profile analyst and at least secondary member of the team’s official media staff, needs to pull his head out, realize the weight of what he’s insinuating here, and make a very quick backpedal and apology. I’m not advocating that Zolak lose any jobs or responsibilities over this. This is not “cancel culture.” The Patriots’ organization, and the other organizations that pay Zolak to provide analysis will or will not continue to make that call based on a number of factors. But this entire sequence is wrong, and it’s dangerously bad “analysis” at a time when we’re all supposed to be a lot smarter about these things.