Cam Newton’s past three immaculate years—not his race—have set him up for failure.
The emergence of Newton’s race into the discussion of his Panthers’ underwhelming 1-5 start to his second NFL season began after his mentor and Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon bristled during an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Michael Silver at the comparisons put forth between Newton and noted NFL bust Vince Young.
“It’s the same old crap—it’s always a comparison of one black to another black,” Moon said alluding to Young, who is also African American. “I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it.”
Based on the path of his career, Moon is more qualified than anyone to make the judgment on race when it comes to playing quarterback.
After winning the Rose Bowl against Michigan as a senior at the University of Washington, picking up the game’s MVP in the process, Moon famously went undrafted in the NFL and had to head north to get a shot at quarterback.
In five seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, Moon won five Grey Cups, including two Grey Cup MVPs and the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award in 1983.
Moon’s rookie season in the NFL was when he was 28 years old. When he retired, he ranked seventh in career wins by an NFL quarterback and fourth in all-time touchdown passes.
Hold on to your underpants Brandon Weeden fans.
What Silver’s article failed to touch on was that Moon had to spend time at West Los Angeles College, a community college in Culver City, Calif. before even making it to the University of Washington because the only four-year schools that would look at him out of high school saw the amazing athlete as anything but a quarterback.
Moon’s story is one of the countless stories of bigoted discrimination that mars the country and, more specifically, the quarterback position in the NFL. How else can we explain that it was not until the offical AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that a black quarterback started in the league, a full 24 years after the reintegration of professional football in 1946?
More recently, there was Rush Limbaugh’s idiotic comment on the set of Sunday NFL Countdown that Donovan McNabb was only viewed as an elite quarterback because “the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.”
(Seriously, who ever thought that putting Limbaugh on that show could result in anything other than that?)
With this extensive history of discrimination, Moon is well within reason to be sensitive towards the notion that Cam Newton’s race is playing a factor in the media’s attempts to pick apart his sophomore struggles and tie them to Young’s.
But just going by the numbers, that comparison is not so sinister.
Both players were the first quarterbacks drafted in their respective class and earned Rookie of the Year Award. They are 6-foot-5 and north of 230 pounds. Young and Newton each threw double digit interceptions during their inaugural seasons but countered their accuracy problems with a dynamic running ability that could bail their teams out.
And now, to Moon’s dismay, Newton is following up his all-world rookie season with a forgettable follow-up, just like Young did in 2007.
Is it a perfect comparison? No. But that doesn’t mean it is all about race.
A far less quoted yet more adept comment that Moon said during his interview related to the critics Newton gained prior to ever putting on a Panthers uniform.
“I think a lot of this is because so many people want to say ‘I told you so’ about him, but couldn’t because he was so good last year,” Moon said.
This is a far more accurate assessment of what is happening to Newton. There are a lot of NFL “experts” who have a vested interest in seeing Newton fall form his pedestal because they never expected him to reach his current status.
Pro Football Weekly’s 2011 draft guide shredded Newton for having a lackadaisical work ethic and selfish attitude. ESPN’s Mel Kiper made the Akili Smith comparison and said it would be wise to sit him as a rookie. And on opening day, Terry Bradshaw said that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert were ahead of Newton coming out of college.
“Just because you need a quarterback, doesn’t mean you should go out and draft one,” Bradshaw said, just hours before Newton debuted by throwing for 422 yards and two touchdowns and running for another.
In his one season at Blinn College, Newton threw for 2,833 yards with 22 touchdowns and rushed for 655 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading his team to an undefeated season the NJCAA National Championship.
In one season at Auburn, he threw 30 touchdowns, ran for another 20 and won the Heisman Trophy, all while leading the Tigers to their first national championship since 1957.
And in one season in Carolina, he set rookie records for passing yards and total touchdowns, and broke the all-time quarterback record for rushing touchdowns.
He has raised expectations to the point that anything other than a hostile takeover of the NFC South this season was bound to leave football pundits disappointed—or thrilled depending on cynical you are.
Newton has offered himself up to criticism by declaring himself “an entertainer and icon” and developing his Superman celebration with each touchdown he scores, despite how many losses pile up (Newton is 7-15 as a starter in the NFL)
But as quickly as members of the media were ready to preemptively declare Newton a bust, they were just as quick to overlook his 17 interceptions, 55.0 QBR and five fumbles were overlooked last season. They were just as quick to overlook Carolina’s failure to get him a legitimate second wide receiver to complement Steve Smith.
In the United States, race cannot be removed from any issue. But if the media is guilty of anything, it is being too quick to compare any parallel, not just along racial lines. The Young comparison may be lazy, but in the way that it is lazy to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan as to who is the greater player before the former’s career is close to over. That—not race—is the problem in this particular instance.
Warren Moon threw 233 interceptions in his NFL career. For what is at least the 234th time, he is off the mark.