Cam Newton has faced more criticism than the average quarterback. Some of it stems from past indiscretions, some as a result of his larger-than-life personality. Some of it is fair and comes with the job while some is wildly unfair, illogical, and maybe in some cases racially motivated.
He is a more polarizing figure than most athletes. Or so we’ve been told countless times this season — so much so that it’s become accepted fact.
But where is the proof of the widespread animosity toward Newton?
It’s the storyline that has sucked all the oxygen out of the room as we wait for meaningful Super Bowl news. And it’s perfect for sports-talk radio, blogs like this one and barstool conversation. The sociological implications elicit strong opinions and accelerate debate.
Personally, though, I’m more interested in discovering not why people dislike Newton but how many harbor a negative view. Jason Whitlock attempted to answer a similar question in his column last week. He suggested Newton’s polarity has been greatly exaggerated in the pursuit of clicks.
Knowing full well that there’s no simple scientific way to quantify the scales, I devised a weeklong trial with randomized results to get a sense of what is being written about Newton. Searching Google News for opinion pieces decrying his dancing or phoniness revealed that an overwhelming percentage of think pieces are positive. Negative articles like this one were few and far between. Perhaps most telling is the relative dearth of citation when laying the groundwork for the anti-Newton sentiment.
There’s something odd about a powerful and vocal majority writing the same columns over and over again to defend Newton from a relatively anonymous minority.
Among professionals, Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki provided the most scathing criticism of Newton with a 2011 takedown that remains uncomfortable to read. Ex-Panthers player Frank Garcia flat-out called him a phony. Brian Urlacher takes exception to the dancing.
Vitriol from John Q. Public is more prevalent. Anyone who has written about Newton in the past has had the unfortunate privilege of seeing the nasty comments lobbed his way for just being himself. Twitter haters can be found with minimal effort — some more coherent than others. Random tweets can used to turn any faction into an angry mob.
Then there are the letters to the editor. For the love of all that’s holy, can we please stop giving every single critical opinion voiced by a nobody a national platform? Since when did user-generated content from the Charlotte Observer become the barometer of public opinion?
Look, common sense dictates that not every person who holds an unfavorable view of Newton is going to pen a letter, send a tweet or post a meme. The question becomes: are these public detractors just the tip of the iceberg or are they getting more exposure than they should, relative to size?
An internal survey of the staff regarding Newton’s public disapproval rate between 18 and 50 percent with a significant disparity among different demographics (old vs. young, white vs. black). It’s easy for those of us who follow sports daily to forget that this Super Bowl will be the first time many Americans are introduced to Cam. It’s logical to expect that his persona will put under an even more powerful microscope if he plays with the same type of passion and enthusiasm he’s been playing with this year.
So, no, we haven’t yet reached the peak of Newton takes.
I believe that while the polarization issue has been greatly overblown and built on the backs of unseen strawmen, the reason that it shouldn’t be ignored is because Newton is not the terminus of the conversation. Rather, he’s at the center of a discussion that has numerous more pressing and interesting tentacles.
Consider the difference between the way Newton is perceived compared to J.J. Watt or Rob Gronkowski. All are fiery and demonstrative players. Watt and Gronkowski are beloved for their actions and not subjected to the same criticism Newton receives. Consider the fact Newton is not the first player to dance and the NFL as a whole has been squeezing more and more mustard on the hot dog for years.
Having a conversation why Newton is judged differently than others is not only compelling, it’s important. As a society we should be self-critical about double standards no matter how trivial they may be. Identifying racial inequities in the hopes of eliminating them is a positive pursuit.
That’s stating the obvious. Perhaps this is, too:
Cam Newton’s importance and divisiveness pales in comparison to the larger social issues that have become almost inextricably connected to him. While it’s easy to be indifferent to the way an NFL quarterback celebrates or smiles, it’s harder to be ambivalent to the idea an African American excelling at the position scares some people.
In order to get to secondary conversations, it must be established that there’s a significant and powerful segment that despises Newton and all he represents. Trying to quantify if that’s actually true or not takes time away from the meaningful debates many want to have.
It’s up to the individual to decide if the intended end justifies the means.