Analyzing the Plight of the Black Quarterback

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October 24, 2012 by shivusharma

Cam Newton has been in the news lately, taking lots of criticism for his poor play and demeanor. His lack of production has resulted in the Panther’s 1 – 5 start, but his words and actions in press conferences have made him the target of critics more than anything else. Many individuals have come to his rescue, citing racial inequality between how black and white quarterbacks are analyzed by the media. I can see how race plays a part in Cam Newton’s criticism, but I can also see how much of the criticism for Cam is well-warranted.

Cam’s record in the league has been less than stellar. Over 22 games, he is 7 – 15 as a starter with an average QBR of 49.66. He’s amounted just one 4th quarter comeback in this time frame. After taking the league by storm in the 1st half of last year, Cam’s production started to slow down as defenses began to figure him out.  This off-season, there were several reports citing his lack of preparation and aversion towards working on his fundamentals. When Cam came into the league as a #1 draft pick, he was given a lot of praise without necessarily earning it. His explosive 1sthalf was paired with several endorsement deals. His ‘superman’ touchdown celebration didn’t help much either.

When you talk the talk you have to walk the walk as well, and Cam just hasn’t done that yet. It sends the wrong message when you act like a superstar, but haven’t achieved the success to warrant that. Nobody likes someone who thinks they are better than they really are. Especially as sports fans, we want to see athletes prove their greatness and be humble for it. Lebron James came into the league and dubbed himself ‘King James’. For years he wowed us with his transcendent game and highlight plays. Eventually all the ‘King James’ stuff got old because Lebron hadn’t won an NBA championship. He needed that first title to validate his greatness, and until he did that, we criticized the heck out of everything he did. Last year he won the title, and now he is unequivocally the best player in the NBA. I’m not saying that Cam Newton needs to win a title. The value placed on championships is exponentially greater in basketball than it is in football for several valid reasons. What I am saying though is that Cam needs to have more success on the field. He cannot continue to showcase his emotional immaturity, lack of work ethic, and negative attitude. He needs to become a better leader on and off the field.

Even though Cam has not been spectacular, the racial undertones from critics are still present. Major media is quick to compare black quarterbacks to other black quarterbacks. Coming out of college, Cam was compared to Michael VickVince Young, and Donovan McNabb, when his best comparison was probably Ben Roethlisberger. It’s easy for us to attribute Jay Cutler’s mistreatment of his teammates, whiny attitude, and overall malcontent to his personality. However, I get the feeling that when Cam or another black QB acts in a similar way, that action validates the stereotype of the Black QB as a group.

Therein lies the problem. Black Quarterbacks are often judged as a group, and not as individuals. They’ve been characterized negatively and criticized unfairly because of several bad apples. Let’s look at some Black QBs of the past:

Donovan McNabb (unpopular draft pick–>success in Philly–>bad-mouthed players/coaches–>Redskins/Vikings failure–>got fat–>out of the league), Michael Vick (highlight machine–>poor work ethic–>federal criminal–>repaired image–>struggling to improve as a passer–>turnover machine), Vince Young

(Amazing college career–>High draft pick–>success in Tennessee –>attitude problems–>psychological problems–>out of the league), Jamarcus Russell (top draft pick–>poor work ethic–>gained weight–>busted for purple drank–>labeled biggest draft bust in history

As you can see, the record for Black QBs has not been great. However, I don’t think it’s fair to lump every Black QB into one big group and attribute certain characteristics to them. There have been countless unsuccessful white quarterbacks that have flamed out of the league as well. Do guys like David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Matt Leinart ring a bell? We judge these guys as individuals and not as a group. The same should be done for the Black QBs. Cam Newton has made mistakes and has not carried himself in the right way, but he must be judged for these missteps as an individual.

It’s easy to say these things, but it is much harder to carry them out. Human nature causes us to schematize our world because our minds are constantly looking for patterns, order, and connections. Stereotypes come from that sort of framing, and not all of them are bad or untrue. So how can we progress beyond this propensity to judge Black QBs as a group? Part of it will take our own individual resilience, to remain open-minded and fair. We need to do a better job being objective in the way we analyze all players, and do our best to find the most apt player comparisons, instead of the most obvious ones.

The other part of it will require one of these Black QBs to shatter the negative mold that has been placed around them. Throughout history, it has been mold-breakers who have fought for freedoms and established new paradigms in our world. Jackie Robinson was the 1st player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The reason why his name is carried on throughout the ages is because of who he was as an individual.

He was strong enough to NOT fight back against the racism and negative stereotyping during that time, but equally as important, he was skilled enough to be a great baseball player. What he did would not be as meaningful if he wasn’t as a great of a baseball player as he was. He shattered the mold of the black baseball player both on the field and off the field. Jeremy Lin is an example to a lesser degree, becoming the first Asian-American to really make it big in the NBA. He wasn’t a ‘typical Asian kid’ going to a great university and ending up as a doctor, businessman, engineer or a lawyer. He fought for his dream, proved the haters wrong, and achieved his goal. The effects of this mold-breaking are not restricted to sports either. I feel like Barack Obama galvanized the hopes and dreams of all minorities when he was able to win the presidential election in 2008. The highest seat in our nation’s government no longer belonged to only White Christian males. The same effect will happen when a woman is elected president of our country. If she is successful, it will do wonders for gender equality in the US.

It takes these sorts of individuals to break molds. People who are willing to endure the criticism and understand that they have a chance to change the way our society is understood. We were fortunate enough to have Jackie Robinson show lead the way in baseball, but we haven’t found that individual yet in football. Will it be Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, or someone else? Until that individual comes, we must do our part and keep an open mind. We need to do our best to judge these athletes as individuals and not as a collection of characteristics attributable to a few bad examples.

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