By: Brent Raines ~Sports Editor~
At his weekly press conference following the Panthers blowout of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game, Cam Newton was asked why he seems to be a lightning rod for criticism, despite leading Carolina to a 15-1 record and a trip to Super Bowl. He worked his way through an answer before getting to a line that would be the talk of the sports world over the next few days.
“I’m an African-American quarterback, that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to.”
Newton ought to be used to answering questions about the amount of criticism he received. Ever since he entered the league as the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the narrative surrounding the Panthers quarterback revolved around the animosity he has received.
At first, the questions revolved around his talent and whether he was good enough to win in the NFL. Now, the questions typically revolve around the celebratory and exuberant way he plays the game. Regardless, the narrative persisted that Newton is unfairly criticized and hated. That narrative needs to change.
First, criticism of Newton’s play has quieted down. It would require a major upset for him to not be named the MVP at the NFL Honors ceremony on Saturday. There will always be those weary of listing him as a first-tier quarterback because he isn’t the best passing quarterback. Though those critics actually have a viable argument since Newton was 28th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks for highest completion percentage this season, he is still a near unanimous pick to be the league’s MVP.
The fact that a quarterback with one of the lowest completion percentages will win the League’s top individual honor proves that there is an immense respect for the whole of Newton’s game.
The other dynamic of the Newton narrative is the undue personal hate that he supposedly receives.
There will always be those “old-school” fans who want to see players quietly hand the ball to the ref after a score. Those folks will never like Newton, nor do they like any player known for his celebrations.
But among the rest of football fandom, Newton is immensely popular. It doesn’t take an advertising major to understand that hated people aren’t usually paid spokesman for national companies. There’s a reason that the controversial Tom Brady doesn’t appear in many national ad campaigns. Even before his likely MVP season, Newton endorsed a plethora of national companies in national ads, including Beats by Dre, Gatorade, Under Armour and Dannon yogurt. Industry experts have predicted that Newton makes $11 million annually from endorsements, second only to NFL golden-boy Peyton Manning’s $12 million.
Despite the inaccuracy of the Newton narrative, it’s easy to see how he answered a question about the criticism he faces with the response that he did. The media repeatedly discusses how hated he is, then turn around and ask him questions about it. You certainly can’t blame him for jumping to the attribute that separates him from most NFL quarterbacks: his race. When the media reports on Newton, they have an easy, builtin “angle” available. It’s easy fodder for any sports media outlet, and, unfortunately, they are too lazy to let it go.
Hopefully, a Super Bowl ring and MVP award will allow us to move on from this tired narrative because it prevents us from appreciating Newton’s greatness. Newton is many things, but it’s about time we recognized how fun he is to watch instead of pretending that he is hated.