In the wake of Cam Newton's amazing year with the Carolina Panthers making it to the Superbowl, an age old debate has been stirred up about black quarterbacks. Not just about football itself, but more so about what is means to be a quarterback and the “so called” way quarterbacks should behave.
Since the beginning of Newton's career (even more prevalent as a result of his success), he's been criticized for being too flashy, acting too hip hop or as many have said, too black. This year he's especially drawn attention from the critics by doing a popular hip hop dance known as “dabbing” after every touchdown. His dances and celebrations are bothering some old school NFL fans and soccer moms. Some have went as far as to write open letters about his behaviour. We should note that Johnny Mamziel is disliked for his celebrations and for the rappers, and crowd that he hangs out with.
The difference in the two scenario's is that there's no contemporary quarterback that they like comparing Mamziel too. For Newton, there's another talented black quarterback who exhibits the total opposite behaviour and that is Russell Wilson. Wilson speaks in what many consider to be a more television friendly, commercial way. Russell Wilson isn't embracing hip hop culture on the NFL field by dancing when he scores, albeit much less often than Cam Newton. He even mentions God quite often, which for the NFL is great for their more conservative, religious audience.
Russell Wilson is a quiet winner, exactly how execs wanted it to be and expected it to be, but out of nowhere came Cam Newton and the Panthers, having a record breaking year, scaring the audience with all that “dabbin” and taking “gangsta” photos with his “crew”. Of course the question was going to arise, “why can't he be more like Russell and Peyton crowd?”
The comparisons about stereotypes and "blackness" totally ignores the fact that these are two totally different individuals with very different influences. We are a week before the superbowl and the question people are asking is if Cam Newton is too black and is Russell Wilson black enough. This seems senseless because we should be comparing the teams and players that are actually playing in the Superbowl. Nonetheless, both quarterbacks face harsh criticism.
The criticism that Newton faces is actually nothing. He is confident in his abilities and not afraid to say it. This brings to mind another well known athlete who was also vocal in proclaiming his Greatness. We often forget that as beloved as Muhammad Ali is today, touted for his boasting and bravado, during his era he was actually disliked as a result of it. So it should come as no surprise to see people displaying the same distain for Newton’s behavior.
Check out some of what's on the internet right now. There are people flat out calling Newton racial slurs and others calling Wilson a sellout. Will it end next week? We'll have to wait and see.
What we do know is that blackness and African American culture cannot be defined by simple labels. We are not this one monolithic group of people. We are all unique and diverse within our own culture. Russell Wilson hangs with Mackelmore at his games, because there are both in Seattle and that's who he is comfortable with, meanwhile Cam Newton is an Atlanta native, therefore, individuals such as Future and Young Jeezy will frequent his games.
The point is yes we all label, and we will continue to do so, but we must recognize it and be willing to admit when our labeling is hindering us and causing us to judge people unfairly. When we ask silly questions like “is he black enough?” or “is he too black?” the better question to ask is what does that even mean?