Cam Newton has been the talk of the NFL this season. As the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, he led his team to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career with his dynamic, electrifying play.
Newton is widely considered the favorite for league MVP, but his history-making, logic-defying numbers aren’t what’s generating the most headlines. Rather, it’s everything else — the touchdown celebrations, the sideline victory photos, the child out of wedlock, the eccentric wardrobe — that has made him a lightning rod for hand-wringing letters to the editor and endless hot-takes.
If all of that sounds inconsequential, that’s because it is. Or rather, it should be. Unfortunately, the rules that apply to other star quarterbacks in the NFL don’t seem to apply to Newton. And he knows exactly why.
“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people,” Newton said frankly just days after winning the NFC Championship game. “[B]ecause they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”
The reason Newton still seems like an anomaly to many is because generations upon generations of black athletes were either steered away from the quarterback position in their youth, or forced to abandon it before they were allowed to play football professionally.
There were many excuses given for this: Black athletes weren’t intelligent enough to play the position of quarterback, and their athleticism could be better used in skill positions. Besides, white linemen might not block for a black quarterback, and white fans might not be able to cheer for him. Essentially, it boiled down to racism.
Nobody knows this better than Marlin Briscoe, who in 1968 made history with the Denver Broncos as the first black quarterback to start a game in the NFL, after he was drafted into the league as a cornerback and before he was forced to change positions to wide receiver.
“I am impressed by Cam’s ascension to what, to me, is greatness,” Briscoe said by phone from Long Beach, California. “But if Cam Newton was playing in ‘68, there’s no way he’d be playing quarterback. He’d be a tight end.”
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