Resisting the Urge to Clap at Cam

Cam Newton has predictably weighed in on the calamity that has engulfed the city of Charlotte, where he toils his wares as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.

But just two months ago it would have been unexpected to hear Cam willingly speak out on issues of race. Back on August 2, I wrote a piece applauding Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett for his stance on activism among athletes. 

Here’s a portion of his widely circulated quote.

“Here in the NFL, the greatest players aren’t in the forefront of the movement. Whether it’s the CBA, whether it’s things going on with trying to change the way — concussions. The greatest players aren’t involved like LeBron James, Chris Paul and all these guys [in the NBA]. Our great players are sitting back just taking the dollars, whether it’s Cam Newton, all these guys. They’re not really on the forefront of trying to change what’s going on.”

Image title                    (Photo Credit:

Later, Bennett would apologize for bringing Cam Newton’s name up, to which I wrote “if Bennett didn’t bring it up then someone else would have.”  While I wouldn’t say those words were prophetic, it was easy to see Newton would have to address race sometime soon.  

On August 15, Newton’s quotes in GQ magazine that seemed to disregard the impact of racism in America had some brothers losing it.

Since that time, Newton’s name has consistently been thrust into the the discussion of race in America. Like using a Nintendo joystick on a Sega system, it would seem that young Mr. Newton is ill-equipped to wield philosophical questions of race in a public setting. That’s with all do respect to Newton’s philanthropic actions.

Just to be perfectly clear, that is not to say that Cam Newton is not an intelligent dude. It takes a lot of smarts to be able to be a successful quarterback in the National Football League. When framing the current environment of sports figures speaking out on social issues we must consider the times in which we live while also being cognizant to the rights of those who we disagree with.

(Video Courtesy: USA Today)

It’s almost as if the passing of the great Muhammad Ali, and the ongoing mainstream revelation of police violence in America, has caused a paradigm shift in the minds of some black NFL athletes. This was exactly what was alluded to by Michael Bennett, and made manifested by Colin Kaepernick.

While Kaepernick’s protest is the most recent spark, his is the rightful but woefully overdue continuation of a tradition that used to be near and dear to black folks. But, as far as Newton is concerned, it appears to be a tradition that he has no idea how to incorporate or navigate.

Deadspin wrote a piece that mentioned Cam working with Republican pollsters and PR advisor Frank Luntz back in 2014. This was reiterated in an article published by Sports Illustrated just last week. Luntz is a close associate of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich, helping him pen “Contract With America,” a conservative action measure that resulted in the GOP gaining 54 House and 9 Senate seats on September 27, 1994.

Yesterday a Tweet began to circulate that seemed to show Newton in solidarity with Kaepernick’s stance on police brutality. According to veteran beat writer Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Newton said it was “embarrassing” these things keep happening while also saying he wants to get more details on the Charlotte shooting and subsequent civil unrest.

Im in a position now where its like, if I say something, its going to be critiqued,” Newton said. “And if I dont say something, oh, you fake. Im a firm believer of justice. Im a firm believer of doing the right thing. And I cant repeat it enough; of just holding people accountable. Im an African-American. I am not happy with how justice has kind of been dealt with over the years — the state of oppression in our community.

That statement is somewhat of a shift from his previous desire to avoid accusing anyone of racism altogether. 

He did, however, go on to say that black people need not be hypocritical and must police themselves within their own communities.  

Why the disclaimers on Black justice, Cam? Why always end with “but” when it comes to addressing injustice?

While his comments are the most succinct thing Cam has ever said about race, there are still those who would say Newton doesn’t know what he’s talking about and should just play football.  

Indeed, I always ask myself why he always has to qualify anything that might be deemed even remotely pro-black with “but”. 

Others still welcome the protest of Kaepernick, while actively wishing that Cam would just concentrate on football. I am for the First Amendment Rights of professional athletes to use their platforms to address social issues. But I must also be willing to tolerate dissenters to my own viewpoint.  As someone who supports the First Amendment rights of all Americans, I support Newton’s right to consult with and speak on whatever he wishes.

I just wished that when he spoke he stayed on one side of the fence and told us how he really felt. Even if it isn’t what certain groups of people may want to hear. 

Back to top