Op-Ed: Cam Newton and Double Standard

The face of Charlotte we need, but not the one we deserve

| February 23, 2016
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Broncos won, 24-10. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

On the field this year, Cam Newton took his play to new heights. He’d always been an immensely talented football player, as Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at Auburn University, as number one overall draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2011, and Offensive Rookie of the Year in his first year in the NFL. His unique skill sets of pocket passer accuracy and powerful running were just part of the reason why, entering this season, he’d taken the Panthers to back-to-back NFC South titles – something no team in the division had ever done – and was already a two time Pro Bowler.

But this year he took off, starting the season with fourteen consecutive wins. He took the Panthers to a franchise best 15-1 record without his main receiving target, Kelvin Benjamin. He developed an entire receiving corps out of a depth chart that had pundits writing the Panthers off to start the season. He took an offense that was expected to be a liability and turned it into the top-scoring offense in the league. Newton, in just his fifth season, has already shattered Steve Young’s record for most games with a passing and rushing touchdown and put up 45 combined touchdowns passing and rushing on the regular season, with another five through the playoffs. For his efforts, Newton became the first Panther to win league MVP and took Offensive Player of the Year and the Ed Block Courage Award as well. Newton was named to his third Pro Bowl, but couldn’t attend as he quarterbacked the Panthers to just their second Super Bowl appearance in the young franchise’s history.

I was at the NFC Championship game against Arizona and I have to say, that was the biggest and most incredible party the city of Charlotte has ever thrown. It was the first time that the Queen City had been able to host the NFC Championship game and the crowd was rocking. Newton, throwing two touchdowns and running for two more against one of the league’s more dynamic defenses gave us plenty of reason to celebrate, as did the thieves on Carolina’s defense who never gave Carson Palmer a break. That game felt like the whole season had – one big party. As someone who is essentially the same age as the Panthers’ organization, I grew up with the team and never have I seen anything quite like this past season, even in 2003. I’ll always remember how this year, the kid in me was brought back and I’ll never forget smiling and dancing while watching Newton smile and dance.

Newton’s five-year contract with the Panthers, signed last offseason, means we’ve got at the minimum four more years of smiling and dancing here in Charlotte (and I hope this franchise continues to resign him as long as he plays). That contract made him the “face of the franchise,” but he’s also become – through the course of this magical year – the face of Charlotte, or, at least, a part of Charlotte.

In Super Bowl media week, Newton told reporters that he was “an African-American quarterback, that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare [him] to.” And Newton was right; he faced undue criticism after taking down an opposing banner at the Green Bay game (a banner which violated stadium policy) and was the target of not one but two angry fan letters. The first came after a road game in Tennessee, where Newton’s dance moves and “pelvic thrusts” were denounced as inappropriate for children. The latter came after Newton led the Panthers over two-time defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks and a fan again complained about Newton’s conduct.

Both of the letters relied on age-old tropes of American cultural racism. Newton is not by any means the first cultural icon to come under barrage of rhetorical attacks from paranoid white parents and it won’t be the last, either. The double standard applied to Newton is nothing new, but perhaps took largest expression after the Super Bowl. Newton congratulated Peyton Manning before leaving the field for interviews. After the game, he was asked particularly pointed questions and, when he abruptly got up and left the press conference. Newton caught hell for what pundits were calling “bad sportsmanship,” a label that was never affixed to Manning when he himself stormed off the field after his last Super Bowl loss. Manning’s Colts had lost to Drew Brees’ Saints, but Manning didn’t so much as shake Brees’ hand. The double standard has reared its head again and again and I doubt its over for him. But – as the face of Charlotte – I have to say I could not under any circumstances be more proud of Carolina’s quarterback.

I’ve seen what Newton has done for this community, surprising a young boy battling cancer by showing up for his birthday party in my home town of Concord, N.C.. His charity work for kids and his larger than life personality have done wonders for the Queen City.

I don’t just “not blame” Newton for walking out of that press conference. I’m glad he did that. I’m glad the face of Charlotte takes winning personally and takes losing personally. I’m glad he’s human, I’m glad he has emotions and wears them on his sleeve, I’m glad he took the Super Bowl loss hard, I’m glad he’s vowing that the Panthers will be back, I’m glad he got up and left instead of rashly firing back at some really vile questions, I’m glad he’s the face of our franchise and I’m glad people still hate him, because he’ll use that.

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Category:Opinion, Society and Identity

Casey Aldridge Junior and Levine Scholar at UNC Charlotte, triple majoring in Religious Studies, History, and Political Science with a minor in Africana Studies. Future Presbyterian seminarian; current Marxist student organizer. Enjoys long-distance running, listening to '70s-era punk rock and '80s new wave, traveling, movement-building, reading Kurt Vonnegut, and watching Doctor Who.

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  1. W van Pelt says:

    You’ll have proven that the treatment of Newton is based on racism when you can show us a white player who’s not criticized even though he:

    – Rubs the opposing team’s nose in nearly every single touchdown with dances, front flips into the end zone, team photos, etc
    – And even celebrates some first downs, completions, etc the same way
    – Tears down (and sometimes stomps on) the signs of fans of the opposing team have brought to the stadium…
    – …and refuses to apologize for it
    – Wears a Superman jersey, calls himself Superman, and basically acts like he’s god’s gift to football
    – Acts like a jerk when he wins
    – Acts like a spoiled child when he loses (as he did in his Super Bowl press conference)
    – Is so much more concerned for his own safety than his team’s success that he won’t even dive on his own fumble in the SUPER BOWL

    You want to know why Cam Newton is so hated? Because he’s possibly the most smug, arrogant, entitled, narcissistic player I’ve ever seen in the National Football League. You can cherry pick one or two things other players have done now and again that match one or two things Cam Newton has done, but there is NOBODY I can recall who acts like such a jerk, consistently, in every circumstance, day in and day out. And that’s why people hate him.

Casey Aldridge Junior and Levine Scholar at UNC Charlotte, triple majoring in Religious Studies, History, and Political Science with a minor in Africana Studies. Future Presbyterian seminarian; current Marxist student organizer. Enjoys long-distance running, listening to '70s-era punk rock and '80s new wave, traveling, movement-building, reading Kurt Vonnegut, and watching Doctor Who.

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