by Madison DeJesus
With 44 seconds left on the clock, Peyton Manning, then an Indianapolis Colt, throws an incomplete pass under pressure to Reggie Wayne and guarantees a New Orleans Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV. With 40 seconds left on the clock Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne are seen leaving the field before the accustomed congratulations to the winning team.
When questioned about how they could show such unsportsmanlike conduct, Manning crafted the excuse that it was “the time for the Saints to celebrate. It’s their field. They deserve the moment.” In response, there were numerous reports of support for Manning’s love of the game and the innate competitiveness of being a quarterback in the Super Bowl.
To understand the importance of this moment we first must understand the journey that led the 16-1 Caroline Panthers to the Super Bowl. Cam Newton was drafted to the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft as the first overall pick. He threw for over 400 yards in his first game, shattering Peyton Manning’s first game record by over 120 yards.
But what sets Newton aside from other leading quarterbacks is not his pass percentage but his ability to run the ball as well. He became the first quarterback to ever have 300 yards passing and over 100 yards rushing in the same game. Newton was inherently changing the game, requiring a higher standard of skill and athleticism than a quarterback is usually responsible for.
For most of the 2015-2016 season the Panthers were undefeated, losing their first game in late December to the Atlanta Falcons. For the Panthers, this has been the most exciting season in franchise history, but it has also been the most controversial.
The biggest controversy of the regular season was Newton’s famous touchdown dance. The touchdown dance is critical to a player’s personality on the field and to the excitement of the game. Almost every top running back and quarterback has a signature touchdown dance. When Victor Cruz dances Salsa in the end zone, the whole crowd goes wild; it’s what he is known for.
But for Newton the response is different. Cam, being the young Black man that he is, is hip to the pop culture dance trends of our generation and does dances including the Nae Nae, the stanky leg and his now infamous Dab. Black quarterbacks are hard to find (although their presence in the game has been steadily increasing) and yet here is a Black quarterback shattering records and celebrating it in a way millennials can understand. He is relatable. But most importantly, he is a relatable inspiration to Black youth.
His celebratory end zone dance has been highly criticized in the media, most famously by a white mother who wrote a letter to Cam claiming she did not want her daughter watching Newton’s “obnoxious” and “crude” behavior. That might be fair if famous players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski were held to the same standard and were subject to the similar remarks. But the reality is that they’re not held to the same standard. Aaron Rodgers’ move in the end zone was so popular that State Farm ran advertisements focusing on it. The touchdown dance has been widely accepted as part of the game – except when Cam Newton does it. I can only infer from these comparisons that what separates Cam Newton from his fellow quarterbacks who dance in the end zone is the color of his skin.
Racial politics played a large role in Newton’s journey to the Super Bowl, and that is why it is not a surprise they manifested themselves in the most heart breaking loss of his career. Newton couldn’t win in peace and now he cannot lose in peace.
Despite the media narrative labeling Newton an immature sore loser, he showed grace throughout the game. In his attempt to rally his team for a comeback drive, Newton received pressure from the Denver defense ultimately ending in a thrown away pass and a hard tackle to the ground by number 95. Newton screamed and waved his whole body around looking for a roughing the passer flag. He did not get one. And in one of the most under reported moments of the game, he got up, put his two hands on the sides of his helmet, closed his eyes and breathed. He returned back to his O-line calm and collected and proceeded to lose the game in graceful fashion. An impulsive, hotheaded quarterback could have easily been ejected from the game in that moment. Cam could have gotten up, yelled at the ref and gotten himself into trouble. Instead he took a simple, deep breath and got back in the game. That is a great quarterback and that is a great loser.
When the Panthers lost the game 24-10 and with 0 seconds left on the clock, Newton was seen congratulating Peyton Manning on his 200th win (and probably the last win of his career) with a smile. This is a much different reaction than Manning had himself when his team lost the Super Bowl just seven seasons ago. But why is nobody talking about that moment? Simple answer: Newton left the post game press conference abruptly after supposedly overhearing comments about his inability to pass the ball from another interviewee. Instead of being met with the same understanding and sympathy that Manning was met when he left the field (a much more unsportsmanlike action) Newton was met with racially charged criticisms.
The most controversial tweet came from Bill Romanowski, former NFL linebacker, and the tweet read: “You will never last a minute in the NFL with that attitude, the world doesn’t revolve around you, boy!” The use of the term “boy” is highly racialized given the American historical context and the lack of its use in referring to white players. Newton responded with poise and grace saying: “I’ve said this since Day One, I’m an African American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to,” and he could not be more right.
Newton continues to be an inspiration, playing his heart out every game and raising the bar for quarterbacks across the league while maintaining his humor and personality. Cam Newton is one of the greatest men to play the game – and he has only just begun. The NFL and football fans everywhere better get ready, because he is Black and proud and that is the most dangerous thing for the racist ideology currently governing the game.