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Nonfiction Societal The Word 5 minute read

More Than A Game

It’s just a game—right?

But, it wasn’t—not THIS game with THIS quarterback.

Many of us Black folks wanted this win.  We were rooting, not for the Panthers as much as we were rooting for Cam Newton, the quarterback, the Black quarterback.  The brother didn’t just have the weight of the game on his shoulders, but the weight of his people.

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It’s football. It’s not about race many will claim; but it is for some of us.  See, many Black folks feel like we lose a lot.  We don’t often get the big awards, promotions or pay checks; we don’t earn the same pay for the same work; we don’t get told that we, as a people, are great in school, at work or in the media.  But we kick some ass in sports.  This is where we win; and it’s a meritocratic forum that typically eliminates the benefits of money, connections or status (with the exception of sports that are expensive to play such as swimming and lacrosse).  It is the purest form of fair competition.  So, we want those wins badly.  It’s more than a game.  For a moment, sometimes, it feels like everything.

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Sports have confirmed for us and announced to the majority that we are not inferior beings as has been (and often, still is) extolled.  Think back to Joe Louis’ win over Germany’s Max Schmeling (a member of the purported superior race).  He proved that Hitler’s platform of White supremacy was completely flawed.  Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are almost heroes because they dominated sports that were deemed “White” and for intelligent athletes.  And for a long time Black people weren’t just viewed as being not intelligent enough to play certain sports; but also incapable of playing particular positions in sports, most notably quarterback.

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For decades, the most talented black quarterbacks to emerge from college were invariably forced to change their positions to wide receiver (Marlin Briscoe, Gene Washington, and Eldridge Dickey) or to defensive back (Mike Howell, Emmitt Thomas, Ken Riley).  Or in the case of Warren Moon, who refused to switch his position, be forced to play in the Canadian Football League despite leading the University of Washington to the Rose Bowl his senior year.  “Reading defenses, understanding schemes, being the face of a franchise: There were just a lot of people in pro football who didn’t think we could do that,” Moon has said.

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A Black quarterback wasn’t taken No. 1 in the NFL draft until the Atlanta Falcons selected Michael Vick in 2001.

So, we cross our fingers a little tighter when our Quarterbacks play.  We don’t want to give anyone an opportunity to say, “we told you so.”

We have become particularly protective of Cam—our giant little brother–as we have watched him get attacked in the media.  First, his skills were questioned.  But his talent quickly destroyed any negative declarations doubting his talent. So then he was called arrogant.  We know that it’s an unspoken rule that Black folks better be humble lest they be accused of being an uppity negro (a la Muhammad Ali).  Finally, in what seemed to be almost a desperate move to malign his character, his celebratory dancing following a touchdown unbelievably became a topic on even reputable news sources.

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First Take, Skip Bayless called the dance, “a little much for a franchise quarterback.”  A Tennessee Mother wrote an open letter in the Charlotte Observer to berate him about his egotism, arrogance and poor sportsmanship.  I’m assuming she and the newscasters who criticized Cam missed when Tom Brady celebrates after touchdowns; or when Carson Palmer motioned to Seahawks fans to suck his dick; or when Travis Kelce hit the quan.  But, I guess that they are just passionate players?

Lastly, I think a lot of people see a character, or rather, a product when they see Cam Newton.  I see a 26-year-old kid.  I see the kids I used to teach.  I see my kids.  I see a kid who has always loved football; who is still thrilled to play the game.  So, though I really wanted Cam to win tonight for me, for Black people, for redemption; I primarily wanted it for him.  The mother in me can’t help but to worry about him tonight—to want to give him a hug.  He knew it was more than just a game too — and that he was carrying a burden for many of us.  I hope the loss while disappointing, is not dispiriting.  I don’t want even the slightest crack in his shine or his confidence.  I hope he knows that we are still so proud of him and can’t wait to watch many more of his celebratory dabs, especially after he wins next year’s Super Bowl.

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