By De'Shay Turner / @DeShayYRIT
*Bling* *Bling* *Bling*
Some 30 minutes after retweeting a video of last night’s Cam Newton press conference, where he so eloquently embeds grits and collard greens into a football analogy, the retweet and favorite notifications are still rolling in. I retweeted the video with the comment “great moment in black history,” which was 10 percent sarcasm and 90 percent honesty on my part. At this particular point it’s reached over 200 retweets and over 150 favorites. Knowing what I know about Cam Newton and what he means to so many people in this moment, these numbers could multiply all day, exhausting my iPhone and Apple Watch battery life, and my ability to do anything else but observe Twitter notifications. Today, as much as any other day, I’m reminded that Cam Newton represents something significant to people. Conference Championship Sunday was but another opportunity for him to supplant that legacy, and he accepted the challenge.
Yesterday’s stage was set. Four different NFL teams, two representing each conference, took the field with a goal of advancing to Super Bowl 50. On the AFC side, 39-year-old Peyton Manning and his likely foe, 38-year-old Tom Brady added another chapter to their often-aligned careers. The NFC side was represented by two more unlikely opponents, 36-year-old Carson Palmer and the 26-year-old Cameron Newton. Similarities exist amongst Manning, Brady, and Palmer, from a basic demographic level of age and race, and ultimately them being what would be considered “traditional” NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are future first ballot Hall of Famers. Brady has 4 super bowl rings to show for his tenure, and Manning has 1, in three previous appearances. Carson Palmer was considered a favorite to add a Super Bowl victory to his resume this year, after a record-breaking season in Arizona. Furthermore, over the past 15-20 years, a reverence for Brady and Manning has filled the homes of many Americans who love the game of football, and respect what these two men have attributed to it. They are America’s long-beloved quarterbacks.
In comes Cam Newton, the young, energetic, African American quarterback from Atlanta, who made dabbing (for better or worse) a household phrase in America. Coming into this season, there were no guarantees for what the Carolina Panthers would be capable of. A season ending injury to their top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and questions in the defensive secondary made a Super Bowl appearance a long shot. Somehow, Newton transitioned from “flashes of greatness” to undeniable greatness, and all doubt of this team winning a Super Bowl has been erased. The transformation of how we view the Carolina Panthers' opportunity at success now is both interesting and exciting, but I find myself more intrigued by something else that recently happened. Cam Newton has managed to do something else extremely impressive this season. He’s done something that football statistics will never show.
Before Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos could even wrap up their dramatic win over the Patriots, the attention was already on Cam. An image began to surface on social media of Cam pictured with Atlanta rappers Young Jeezy, and Future, prior to his NFC championship game. Jeezy and Future, though emerging during different eras of the Atlanta hip hop scene, are both hallmarks of the city’s success. They represent finding a way out of a lifestyle that can trap many youth in Atlanta and other urban areas across the country. They represent culture. They represent hip-hop. So why would they take the time out of their busy schedules to, in a sense, “christen” Cam Newton before the biggest game of his career? Some may ask why this moment is even relevant. This moment matters, and their support of Cam matters because in the midst of this season’s massive football success, he has taken it upon himself to represent and showcase a culture that’s so often not allowed. Those who appreciate and identify with that culture can’t say enough about how important Newton is to advancing it.
Being a black quarterback in the NFL is just different.
The quarterback position has long been one viewed as the leader of an NFL team. Quarterbacks are often the face of an NFL organization. They’re the focal point of the offense, an extension of the head coach, they speak to the media, money’s spent building around their talents, and lately more rules have been established to ensure their safety on the field. Their jobs require leadership, strategic planning, motivation, poise, public speaking skills, and so forth. The portrayal of the black male in the United States is not one that traditionally screams, “he’s the perfect candidate for that job.” Compared to the others competing yesterday, Cam is an anomaly. I believe that this reality troubled him early in his career, and that he struggled with finding a compromise between who he is, and who he needs to be to represent the organization.
Something felt different about Cam Newton this season. There was something bold, and unapologetic about his approach to the quarterback position. He gleefully smiled and “dabbed” after every touchdown. He responded to backlash from it by infusing a 1950’s white America favorite “the twist” on Thanksgiving Day. He also went out of his way, with direct urgent after every score and dab, to get a football into the hands of nearby kid. Cam Newton simply gets it. He understands the opportunity he has to represent a generation and a culture at the highest level, as well as the tragedy it would be if he allowed anyone to deter him from it. Watching him on the football field this season, I personally feel a sense of pride. I feel proud that one can reach the highest level of achievement in their career of interest in this country, and bring key tenants of their culture with him. Judging the other responses I’ve seen, others feel that way as well. Cam Newton is shifting the culture in today’s NFL, one living room at a time.
*Bling* *Bling* *Bling*
It’s now been three hours since my original tweet, and the notifications are still coming in at a steady pace. The retweets have exceeded 500, and the favorites have nearly amassed 400. I am but one person who has utilized social media to express appreciation for what Cam has done. I’m sure others have experienced widespread agreement (in the form of retweets, favorites, and likes) as well. The most important thing here is the common thread. One of my favorite things about social media is it’s ability to capture the immediate pulse of the people. I believe the people have spoken, and have very clearly stated that they value Cam Newton for his courage to show the world “us” especially when advancing to a level so high that the entire world can’t help but see. He is now at that place, and he is doing exactly that. Cam Newton is indeed, for the people.
Somewhere between artistic and athletic.