Cam Newton is the star of the moment and has been on his fans’ consciousnesses for five years now — it’s thus time to reflect on his career as a whole. Cam owns a Heisman Trophy, a College Football National Championship, a National Football League (NFL) rookie of the year award, three-time pro-bowl honors and now a Super Bowl berth.
At the age of 26, he’s the decorated leader of a Super Bowl team, playing the most important position in football: the quarterback. The quarterback position is an American cultural icon, a once in a generation talent who is revered in sports culture. However, rather than an icon of universal admiration, Cam is a divisive figure in today’s league.
One who turned on ESPN at any time of day during the past two weeks would find someone giving a hot take about how Cam Newton is arrogant, cocky or just downright immature. For every member of the Cam Newton fan club, it seems just as easy to find a football fan grousing about the arrogance and general unlikability of Cam and the Panthers. One of the worst sins that an athlete can commit in today’s sports culture is being arrogant — just look at the fan reaction to Lebron James and “The Decision.” Lebron was blasted by sports fans throughout the country for putting himself on national television and proclaiming that he was taking his (admittedly enormous) talents to South Beach. He was not actually alleged of any misconduct, but viewers rushed to paint him as the villain of the National Basketball Association (NBA), because he didn’t bow to the masses and placate them with shows of false modesty.
The issue with sports culture is that the buzzword “arrogant” isn’t equally distributed among sports icons. There is dog whistle language thrown around in sports all the time, and the position of NFL quarterback is one of the most poignant examples. Aaron Rodgers scores a touchdown and does the “discount double check”, and we all love it. He gets his own commercial and corporate sponsor for his celebration. Cam Newton does the Superman sign after picking up a first down, and we chastise him for his arrogance in making the team game of football all about himself. These two actions are strikingly similar, but responses to them are markedly different. Why? Because black athletes are held to an even higher standard of humility and sportsmanship in sports culture, especially when they play a historically white position like quarterback. Behaviors that would garner most NFL quarterbacks praise for their “competitive spirit” are seen as arrogant when they are performed by Cam Newton. Our collective sports consciousness is fundamentally uncomfortable with seeing an unapologetically confident black quarterback lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Here’s the good news: Cam doesn’t care what we think. He is going to go on celebrating and flashing that trademark smile all the way through the Super Bowl 50, win or lose. Dab on Cam.