Opinion: Cam Newton criticism mostly generational, not racial

Matt Poe

Old-school and new-school clash on all sorts of issues. Whether it’s movies, music or art, the old and the new tend to disagree on how something was and how something is. Sports certainly fall under this umbrella as well, and the 2016 Super Bowl is going to give us exactly that between Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and their respective fans. The proverbial changing of the guard will happen in more than one way come Sunday, both on the field and off.

Peyton Manning is what many would consider the mould for a professional athlete: humble, gracious in victory and defeat and business-like. Yes, he does those cheesy, awful, Papa John’s and Nationwide commercials, but he’s by no means a celebrity. Aside from the Hall of Fame career and some great Saturday Night Live skits, he’s the typical quarterback we’ve come to know for the last 40 plus years. And he’s white. 

Cam Newton, however, is today’s ultimate celebrity athlete. He’s fashionable, young and good-looking. He dabs hard (not that kind of dab), dances with his teammates and not only does he win games, he puts on a show doing so. He’s the maestro and the rest of the Carolina Panthers are his orchestra in perfect unison. He’s one hell of a football player, which tends to get lost in the two-week period between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl, where columnists and writers (yours truly, included) will take the low-hanging fruit and dive right into it.

And, he’s black. I don’t say this to be polarizing or do my best Stephen A. Smith impression; I say this because many in the media and fans alike have centered the buildup to this game on this storyline, one that is largely preposterous and entirely misses the target: black versus white.  For any rational person, it’s not about that, not even close.

Instead, it’s largely a generational gap in what we have come to expect from professional athletes and fans have aligned accordingly: the old with Peyton, the young with Cam. Newton may be the face of this generation of new-school professional athletes: big personality, big results and all the flair. And you know what? It’s awesome.

It seems many of us want our professional athletes to act like our politicians: stoic and absent of a visible personality. But Cam Newton is not that. That’s why he’s refreshing to many sports fans, especially younger generations. He plays a violent, man’s game like an ecstatic kid putting his helmet on for the first time in Pee Wee Football. It’s different than what generations before wanted from their athletes or what days of society’s past may have wanted.

There’s nothing wrong with preferring the old-school mentality over new. Just don’t mistake it for a racial issue, as many people and much of the media has done. Are there people who don’t like Newton because he’s black? I’m certain there are and they need a reality check, amongst many other things. Most people who don’t like him do so because of his situation during his time at Auburn involving him allegedly accepting money, and his new-wave star power in the NFL.  

Last week, Newton said the following: “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.” He’s right. He’s 6’5’’, 240 pounds of zip it by you, tuck-it-and-go and then give the football to a little kid in the stands who will remember that moment for a lifetime. He’s making it look easy and having fun doing so. Bring on more like him.

Matt Poe is a columnist for the Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]