Originally posted on Player Perspective  |  Last updated 12/29/11

I love Cam Newton.

Now that that’s out of the way it’s time for me to swipe those cute little buns across the fiery pits of racial reality. Beware there are about to be some 3rd degree burns on those talented little ass cheeks.

ESPN posted an interview with Cam that will be in their Magazine  next month where he touches on all of those who criticized him when he was coming into the NFL. If you remember scouts said a number of things–that he was one-read and his smile was fake among other (mostly petty and untrue) things. As you all know by now, along with breaking a boat load of records, Cam has shown himself to be mature, poised, and a more than capable passer and runner. In fact, he is rookie of the year no matter which way the vote goes. He has single-handedly reinvigorated the Carolina Panthers franchise despite a defense that Football Outsiders hasn’t ranked above 30 all season long.

But on race, Cam has it painfully wrong:

“I can’t sit up here and look at it like, ‘Oh man, my critics are racist,’ ” Newton said. “I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up? I’m trying to be a trailblazer. If Baylor’s Robert Griffin decides to come out, I want people to say ‘He can be the next Cam Newton’ instead of ‘He’s going to be the next JaMarcus Russell.’ ”

What Cam doesn’t realize is that the very need to link athletes who have little in common besides their race could be considered, itself, to be racist. No I don’t think Cam is racist, I think that Cam, like most black people, live in a world where they worry about being judged by the actions of other blacks. This is a feeling that many blacks experience at different times in life but at work is where it haunts us the most. Often you’ll hear blacks say they don’t want to “mess it up” for any blacks that apply for a position after them. Frequently it’s not until later in life when you realize that it’s wasted mental and emotional energy to try to take on the image of an entire race on your own. People who are racist like their racist thoughts just fine, and you shucking and jiving–despite what your parents may have taught you– trying to be “one of the good ones” is just one way to stress yourself into an early grave.

Cam will learn that as well–hopefully sooner rather than later. No matter how well Cam plays into the future it won’t stop some folks from deliberately choosing to compare up and coming black QBs to black QBs who are considered failures. The entire time Newton was coming up, McNabb and Culpepper were right there as two very OBVIOUS available comparisons (if you just had to choose black QBs to compare Cam to) yet people, including Cam, prefer to hold up Young and Russell as barometers. What makes Cam think that performing well will afford future black QBs with a luxury he, himself, does not afford Robert Griffin III?

On some level, it seems Cam has forgotten he is not the first black QB to perform well. I think he has some research to do.

To speak specifically to Vince Young and Jamarcus Russell…they faced vastly different circumstances coming into the league. To compare the two of them is disturbing. Further, Young isn’t the first interception King to lose a starting QB position and to go play backup with a chance to someday start again. And that experience is certainly not limited to black athletes. Washington Redskins QB Rex Grossman, who is white, won a Super Bowl, played backup for the Houston Texans and now starts for the Redskins. Russell wasn’t the first QB or player to underperform, display poor personal conduct and find himself out of the league altogether. That is something that happens to both black and white athletes on a yearly basis, take your pick there are many available comparisons. Ryan Leaf?

I’ll save my tirade on how Russell’s problems weren’t completely his fault for another post. But for now…

The undercurrent here is that two big dumb black studs squandered an opportunity that some people think they never should have had in the first place. But failing to meet  expectations is not special to black folks. And I wish Cam would have taken a step back and thought about why the connection between the three of them was ever even made. When I see Cam play, I see more of Ben Roethlisberger than anyone else who currently plays. Football Outsiders said he was Peyton Manning and Herschel Walker rolled into one. I think that’s a much more thoughtful comparison.

As far as Robert Griffin is concerned I think there’s something else to remember before we peg him. The college game is very different from the NFL game. Griffin is a good rusher but hasn’t shown me anything that says he has a rush first, pass second mentality. I think Griffin is, at his core a passer first. He could spend his entire NFL career somewhere near the pocket and passing on the run ala Tony Romo when necessary. It’s too soon to know. And it’s certainly too soon to limit our thoughts of what Griffin can be become by only considering comparisons to players he shares very little with beyond skin tone.

Back to Cam: Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by what he said. In fact, I was alarmed by Cam’s earlier comments during the summer when asked about whether he thought black QBs were treated differently. He was very dismissive. But not dismissive in a way that indicated that he’d given it any thought.  I’d love to hear Cam’s comments in a few years once he’s lived a little outside of the deliberate shelter of big money college athletics.

But then gain, he could just end up being another Michael “avoid-any-subject-that-could-hurt-my-pockets” Jordan. And that would make me sad.

What we do know, for sure, is that most of the ticket buying public doesn’t like to hear about race no matter how valid the conversation. Personally, I’d rather Cam coddle those folks by avoiding the topic altogether in lieu of giving them some pseudo post-racial poster boy.

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