Cam Newton is the most physically gifted quarterback in the game today, and perhaps in the history of the NFL. He is also the most polarizing player in the game today and also perhaps the history of the league.
Newton has incredible size, speed, stregth while possessiong a rocket arme equiped to make any throw in the game. He is young, charismatic, enegetic, entertaining and blessed with a million dollar smile that can light up a room. On the football field, he is everything any general manager or head coach would want in a quarterback on the field, but there's a problem.
Newton's on field play has drawn raves, as it should, but his on field antics have become the center of its own controversy and the match that started the fire can be traced back to Nashville.
A Titans fan and mother wrote a letter to the newspapers following Newton and Carolina's Nov. 15 visit to Nashville where the Panthers defeated the Tennessee Titans 27-10 at Nissan Stadium.
In the letter, the mother wrote about her objection to Newton's post scoring antics during that game. She stated that Newton made her young daugthers first NFL game a bad experience because of what transpired on the field that day.
Critics began to bash Newton while supporters rushed to his defense. Though it has slowed down from the initial fervor, neither side has stopped.
Newton has his team in the Super Bowl with a 17-1 record following a 15-1 regular season and two dominating playoff wins over the defending NFC champion Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
On Thursday it was Newton himself who threw gas on the fire over his actions when he blamed race for the controversy that won't end.
“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,” Newton said in an article in the Charlotte Observer.
Really Cam? You think you are the first African-American quarterback? You think you are the only one who has a rocket arm, size and speed?
Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam- who ironically is from Nashville- was the first electric African- American quarterback when he burst on the scene in the early 70's. He was named the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to the start of the 1974 season.
Gilliam eventually lost the quarterback job after just six game, in part because of racism, though he has other off field deamons that followed him throughout his life until his death in 2000. He was replaced by Terry Bradshaw, who went on the win four Super Bowl titles with the Steelers and earn a place in Canton.
"It became a race issue and things started to get nasty," Myron Cope, the longtime color analyst for Steelers broadcasts, told the Tennessean in 1999, via the NY Times. "I ran a talk show at the time, and we took all kinds of calls from people who were upset because Joe was playing and he was black."
Doug Williams was the first African-American quarterback to win the championship when he lead Washington to the title in Super Bowl XXII.
Warren Moon is an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who is also African-American. He was the first African-American quarterback inducted into the Hall of Fame. Moon's NFL numbers are incredible as he emassed 3,988 completions for 49,325 yards, 291 touchdown passes, 1,736 yards rushing, and 22 rushing touchdowns in his 17 NFL seasons.
Moon set a franchise record for wins with 70 as the quarterback of the Houston Oilers, which stood until Steve McNair broke it in 2004 after the franchise moved to Nashville to become the Titans.
McNair was every bit as big, strong and physical as Newton. McNair possesed the rocket arm that helped earn him the nickname "Air McNair" during his days at Alcorn State.
During his 13 year NFL career, McNair started 161 games, completed 2,733 passes for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns. He was the benchmark for toughness as on multiple occasions he played injured, at times so badly that he could not practice during the week, only to win a game for the Titans on Sunday.
Russell Wilson was the last African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl when he led Seattle to the title two seasons ago, and then to a return trip in a loss last season.
Newton is not the first, nor will he be the last African-American quarterback to succeed in the NFL. He might well become the best ever African-American quarterback and even the greatest of all time regardless of race. That remains to be seen, but his talent supports the potential for it to happen.
As to the controversy concerning Newton, and in the interst of full disclosure, I must admit that I am "old school." I believe you act like you have been there before, hand the football to the official and head to the bench. It worked well for years for players such as Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
That said, and being progressive enough to understand that isn't going to happen in today's NFL, I am ok with the celebrations that occur following scores. I will never be a fan of the sack dances and other celebratory things that players such as J.J, Watt engage in during games.
However there is a fine line between a celebration and disrespecting an opponent.
Newton blurs and even crosses that line at times. It's those times that people object and why these comments continue to arise.
I'm a fan of Newton giving the football to the kids. It's a great gesture and to see the faces on those who are lucky enough to get one is priceless.
I'm ok with his initial response when he scorea a touchdown. However, at times that response becomes drawn out of continues too long. Those times, even if it is not every single time create had feeling for players on the field. That leads to incidents like we saw in Nashville when Newton scored late in the game against the Titans and went into his celebration.
Newton is not afraid to put it in the face of opponents and then say "if you don't want me to do it, stop me," which he said following the Nashville incident.
While that statement is true, there is also a thing called sportsmanship. Newton shows that the majority of the time and I don't doubt that he respects his opponents, but at times his celebration are closer to showboating and disrespect than simple exuberance.
Of course that line is a matter of perception, and everyone's perception is different. Newton obviously doesn't see what he is doing has ever crossed the line. That's fine. He is entitled to his opinion, as are the rest of us.
What should not be up for debate here is that while racism is real and does exist in this country even today, the vast majority of people who object to Newton's antics are not racist. Most are old school, myself included, and like to see players respect their opponents and not get close to the line where people think of it as disrespectful.
Newton would be better served to study the history of his race at the quarterback position in the NFL and read about "Jefferson Street Joe" before he talks about racism in regard to his detractors. Newton's issues are nothing compared to the real racism that Gilliam endured.