Where’s ya heart at, Cam?

Cam Newton has spoken about race in a surprising manner this summer.
Cam Newton has spoken about race in a surprising manner this summer.

I have no shame in admitting that I hopped on the Cam Newton bandwagon last year during the Panthers’ Super Bowl run. What made me root for the Panthers during that stretch was Newton’s commitment to being himself. I loved watching Cam dab on them folks week after week, refusing to let his haters stop him from expressing himself. It was fresh; it was different; it was fun.

The big picture from a historical point of view is that Black Americans went from being slaves, to second-class citizens without civil rights, to the primary fodder of the prison-industrial complex.

That’s why it is utterly disappointing to see the 180-degree turn that Cam is making this off-season. In January, he acknowledged that he was an “African-American quarterback that scares people.” Today he “can’t fathom” how something as small as 1/8 of an inch of skin plays such a big role in how people treat each other. This statement screams both ignorance and inauthenticity.

Cam Newton knows better, folks. In both of his recent interviews with GQ and ESPN, he made a conscious decision to skirt around the topic of race. While it is understandable that he might want to avoid the controversy that comes with speaking his mind, it is thoroughly frustrating to see the NFL MVP with a voice that can stretch across America say that this country is “beyond” race.

Newton said he would retire the dab in the 2016 season.
Newton said he would retire the dab in the 2016 season.

The “big picture” from Cam’s point of view is that we are all the same color on the inside and need to do right by each other. The big picture from a historical point of view is that Black Americans went from being slaves, to second-class citizens without civil rights, to the primary fodder of the prison-industrial complex.

Cam is technically right, we are all the same color underneath that 1/8 inch of skin. We all bleed red. But, the notion that we are all treated equally is absurd.  It is an insult to those who have fought and are still fighting for racial equality in this country to suggest that their work is finished and that they have nothing left to fight for.

We have made tremendous strides toward freedom, equality, and “doing right by each other” within the past century and a half, but America is still light-years away from being beyond race.

If we were truly beyond race, everybody who grows up in the United States would have an equal chance at achieving their potential, regardless of skin color. That is not the case today. Any public figure who claims that the United States of America is beyond having any racial problems is either misinformed, being insincere, or outright lying.

Even someone as elitist as Donald Trump recognizes that the playing field isn’t equal.


If we are beyond race, why is nearly 60% of the U.S. prison population composed of Black and Hispanic men and women? Why do Black and Hispanic people receive longer sentences than White people for the same crimes? Why do statistics show that African-Americans serve nearly as much time in prison for drug offenses as Whites do for violent crimes? In some cases they serve more, as evidenced by Brock Turner, the newly freed rapist who used to lurk around Stanford University. He spent just three months in prison.

If we are beyond race, why is the Republican nominee for President of the United States on national television talking about how bad the schools are that Black and Brown kids have to go to? Even someone as elitist as Donald Trump recognizes that the playing field isn’t equal.

Even Donald Trump admits their are racial inequalities in America.
Even Donald Trump admits there are racial inequalities in America.

If we are beyond race, why does the league that cuts Cam’s checks have to implement a Rooney Rule that forces the owners to interview minorities for leadership positions? Why do thousands of Americans consider Cam a thug when he is a role model who uplifts and inspires countless children?

America has a very ugly side of its past that most people are reluctant to talk about. People want Black folks to “just get over” arguably the most horrific genocide in world history, American slavery, which was abolished just over 150 years ago.

The average life-expectancy in the U.S. is more than 75 years, which means that slavery was legal in the U.S. less than two lifetimes ago. It’s effects are still felt today. That’s why Georgetown University decided recently to give admissions preference to descendants of slaves. It’s their way of atoning for their participation in the slave trade. 

I hope this is not how Superman’s story ends–silenced by the almighty dollar.

People don’t want to talk about how not too long ago it was illegal for black people to read, vote, or even be counted as full-fledged human beings.

We also have ugly things going on today that are not receiving the proper level of concern. Mass incarceration and police brutality are real. There is no way that you can tell me that every single cop in America is doing his or her job properly. I would say that most of them are trying to do the right thing, but there are too many who are committing violent crimes against those who they are sworn to protect and hiding behind their badges to get away with it.

Colin Kaepernick is stepping in where Cam Newton is slacking.
Colin Kaepernick is stepping in where Cam Newton is slacking.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is so committed to drawing attention to these issues that his conscience will not allow him to stand for the national anthem. While Cam Newton does not have to take that particular stand, he should take a stand nonetheless. “Who am I to say whether Colin is right or wrong,” is not a stand. It’s a cop-out. And Cam’s voice is way too powerful to settle for cop-outs.

Cam Newton seems like a gifted, generous, and articulate individual. He is an athlete that I genuinely root for because I like his style and believe that his heart is generally in the right place. But, having observed his last two major interviews, I am drawing a different perception. He is coming across as ignorant, inauthentic, and as someone who backs down when it is time to speak on real issues, just like he backed away from that fumble in last year’s Super Bowl. And that’s where I jump off the bandwagon.

I hope to see a change. I hope this is not how Superman’s story ends–silenced by the almighty dollar. Crippled under the glare of public perception. One of the most influential black men in America, afraid to speak his own mind.

I write this because Cam Newton can be much more than just a football player. He can be a real-life hero. Whether he wants to or not is entirely his choice.

But I will say this. Stephen A. Smith called Kevin Durant’s move to join Golden State the “weakest move” he’s ever seen from a superstar. To me, Cam Newton’s recent comments on race in this country are a thousand times weaker than that.

 

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