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Is race a factor in the criticism of Cam Newton?


It’s a question that has been lurking throughout much of the season, hiding between the lines of the attention-seeking letters to the editor and even goofier petitions to ban him from certain NFL cities, petitions which some in the media even more goofily have dignified by writing and talking about them: Is Cam Newton’s race a factor in the criticism he receives?

Answering that question requires first acknowledging that Newton is criticized on a statistically-significant basis. Many think he isn’t, and that much of the debate comes from the reaction to criticism that simply doesn’t exist -- but for the attention-seeking letters to the editor and even goofier petitions to ban him from certain NFL cities, petitions which some in the media even more goofily dignify by writing and talking about them.

For the most part, fans currently either like Cam Newton or are ambivalent about him, which hardly makes him polarizing. Still, there’s a misguided perception that Newton receives as much criticism as he does praise, and he was asked during a press conference on Wednesday to explain why he has become more of a “lightning rod” this year (even if the lightning really isn’t there).

Here’s the full answer, via “I think this is a trick question because if I answer it truthfully, it’s going to be, ‘Oh, he’s this, that.’ But I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t think people have seen what I am or what I’m trying to do, and I said that prior to me being in this situation. But when I said it then [the response was], ‘Oh, he’s immature. Oh, he’s young. He’s this, that and the third.’

“It’s like I felt a certain type of way then, I feel the same type of way now. Nothing’s pretty much changed. They talk about maturity with me; they talk about skillset with this team. Nobody has changed. It’s been the same Ted Ginn that was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. It’s the same Jericho Cotchery, the same Philly Brown, the same Cam Newton. Nothing’s changed. The only thing has changed is that we’re winning.

“I said it since Day One: I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to. It’s funny, I get inspired -- it makes me go out there and practice even harder because I remember when I was working out for the draft. I would see the Senior Bowl playing and I see these guys out there busting their tails trying to get drafted, try to have a job to provide for their family or themselves. And it’s like, here I am, I’m doing exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it and when I look in the mirror, it’s me. Nobody changed me. Nobody made me act a certain type of way and I’m true to my roots. It feels great, but yet, people are going to say whatever they want to say. And if I’m in this world living for that person -- ‘Oh, this person is going to say this, this person is going to say that’ -- then I can’t look at myself and say I’m Cam Newton, or I’m Cameron Newton to most people. Because I’m not because I’m living for you.”

Maybe, then, Cam Newton believes he’s a “lightning rod” not because he has noticed it personally (as he said, he’s living for himself and not for the rest of us) but because he is assuming that reporters and others are telling him he’s a “lighting rod” and he has no reason to disagree.

Regardless of whether it’s a handful of outliers or a quasi-mainstream view, it would be nice to think we like or dislike quarterbacks based not on how they look but what they do and how they conduct themselves. There are few quarterbacks more truly polarizing than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who have roughly equal numbers of fans and enemies. Ultimately, they’re both loved and resented for the success they’ve achieved, personally and for their teams.

So maybe the truth is that people are mistakenly assuming that Newton has equal parts friends and foes for now, However, once Newton starts sliding rings onto his fingers he’ll be received like the great white quarterbacks have been over the years: Fans of his own team will love him, and fans of the rest of the teams will hate him.