Warren Moon thinks that race plays a factor. He lived through it. He feels he can recognize it when he sees it, and feels comfortable speaking up if necessary.
Moon is drawing criticism for recent comments he made linking criticism of second year Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to negative racial undertones he himself played under his entire career.
(Courtesy of Yahoo!’s Michael Silver)
“I don’t understand it,” Moon said. “I heard somebody compare him to Vince Young. It’s the same old crap – it’s always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it.”
Needless to say, the hours after the story posted featured numerous takedowns of Moon’s position on the criticism of Newton.
While I have a number of reasons why I’m among the many disappointed with not only Cam Newton’s play in 2012, but his demeanor as well, I refuse to be dismissive of Moon’s assertion of sme of Newton’s more visible critics. Namely Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, who recently wrote a column comparing Newton to Young (currently not on an NFL roster and with few prospects), something Moon referenced specifically.
Moon played 16 NFL seasons, made the Prow Bowl nine times, and lost five years of his playing career to Canada after being told by too many NFL scouts that he would need to change positions in order to play in their league. At the very least, I feel he should be afforded a modest benefit of the doubt when he speaks on these issues.
Many of Moon’s critics have taken the stance that while he is coming from a well-meaning place, Moon’s saying race has anything to do with how people are “down” on Newton in his sophomore season is just plain wrong. Without being entirely dismissive (as to come off disrespectful), there is a rush to associate Moon’s comments as being that of a relic from a time long since gone.
But to disregard any criticism of Newton’s play in 2012 having racial undertones is to disregard some of the same criticisms Newton faced before his rookie season when, you know, he re-wrote the record book for the position.
Statistically speaking, as Moon stated in Silver’s interview, the differences between Newton’s play in 2012 and his 2011 rookie campaign are marginal at best. His completion percentage through six games is 58.4, only 1.6 percent lower than last season. His yards per completion is up (8.02 from 7.84), his rushing yards per carry are up (5.9 from 5.6), and his QB rating is down (79.3 from 84.5).
Newton’s biggest on-field issue is one that would draw criticism for any quarterback of any color, point production. The Carolina Panthers offense is producing only 17.7 points per game, good for fifth worst in the entire NFL.
How much of that is Newton’s fault?
Well, that depends on how you feel about the Panthers play-calling. They signed running backs Deangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert to a combined $90 million dollars worth of deals this off-season, yet it’s Newton who is leading the team in rushing by almost 100 yards (273), and is second in carries (46, Williams leads with 50).
In a related story, the Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney this week.
But the Panthers are 1-5, and people will find criticisms to say/write/tweet about the quarterback of a team with that record. When the same quarterback throws a bounce pass in the direction of a wide-open tight end eleven yards away instead of a game winning touchdown, or fumbles the ball diving for a first down while trying to nurse a lead in a division game on the road, those criticisms will have substance.
So what would lead Moon to believe that the criticisms of said quarterback would be steeped in anything racial?
“The big thing with him is he doesn’t like losing,” Moon said Monday. “He doesn’t handle it very well. I don’t see anything wrong with that; it’s OK not to like losing. You just can’t show it as the leader of the football team.
“You have to project optimism and calmness to the players around you. You can’t be demoralized. He’s not showing optimism. He’s looking puzzled. He looks like a guy who doesn’t have all the answers, and his teammates see that.”
Ah, the delicate balance of handling emotions while simultaneously handling adversity.
This is the part where I reiterate that I too have my own disappoiontments with Cam Newton, Year Two. In the five losses, Newton has exhibited emotions I personally never want to see out of any player, much less a quarterback, who’s supposed to be a leader in the NFL.
Newton sucks at post game press conferences following a loss. His body lanuage sucks, what he has to say sucks, everything sucks. Its not even up for debate.
Just watch this. See, he sucks at that.
He’s actually a fun case study in observing professional athletes raised in an era when every waking moment of any person with any potential to be idolized was documented, even manufactured, and distributed into the homes of kids who watched waaaaaaaay more television than any other generation in history (a number that has only increased over the years).
Simply put, most of the genuine emotion we see from the modern athlete is in fact not genuine at all, yet simultaneouly all-too genuine.
Okay, that wasn’t simple at all, let me try again…
Cam Newton gives you what he thinks you want to see from him in the press conferences and on the field after losses. Its kind of contrived, and its kind of an act, but its real to him.
He’s not doing it for himself. We’ve got a grownup generation raised to believe that if you are the best of the best, losing is an unacceptable outcome. It was indoctrinated through the Michael Jordan marketing machine and, continued on through his disciples.
No, he’s doing it for us. He thinks its what we, his audience, wants.
But we don’t. We want to see something new.
So when I see him execute the longest eye roll in recorded in a presser, or watch him be inconsolable on the sideline while the team is in the waining moments of another defeat, I can’t help but look at it as performance art.
However, the performance art door swings both ways. His celebrations are calculated, if nothing else. Last year, his “Superman” routine was cute and cuddly. His full-toothed smile made people think back to Shaquille O’Neal’s monetary breakdown for his smile, and how those teeth would open countless marketing doors.
And they have. Gatorade. Under Armour. GMC. All of the companies signed themselves up to have their names associated with the 22 year old phenom before he had even won 8 professional games. So the performance is working and worth it’s weight in literal gold.
But what makes Newton a marketable player and a great talent has also made him a target from early on.
“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. “I think people are overreacting. How can he be a bust? He just had one of the great years a rookie has ever had, and now he can’t play? Come on.”
Before the 2011 draft, there was the now infamous Pro Football Weekly draft preview that described Newton as “disengenious”, “scripted”, “selfish”, “immature”, “not dependable”, and “lacks accountability”.
I mean, isn’t that kind of what the critics are saying today?
So what does Newton being black have to do with anything?
Well, aside from any and all of those same criticisms being used against Newton also being used against a number of black quarterbacks over the years, particularly in scouting reports prior to them ever suiting up for an NFL team, many of those criticisms are seen as code in the minds of Moon, and others who have played the game and had opportunities witheld from them.
Surely the perception of the black quarterback has grown in many positive ways, from when Marlin Briscoe first went under center in in 1969, up to Doug Williams being drafted in the first round of the 1978 draft, through Cam Newton being the number one overall pick in 2011, to Robert Griffin III being the number two overall selection in 2012.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is being the black quarterback is still means being the black quarterback. Any post-racial American desire to deny that fact is just that; a desire.
So, when those same coded criticisms were first launched at Newton, he hadn’t yet played a down in the NFL. He was being written about as a bust in the making, only he proceeded to go on and shatter not only those lowly expectations, but the perception of what a rookie quarterback can do from day one.
It wasn’t even ten years ago that Rush Limbaugh sat on the set of ESPN’s NFL Countdown and said people were reluctant to criticize an-entering-his-prime-Donovan McNabb because the media was “desirous” (word of the day) for black quarterbacks and coaches to do well in the NFL.
That season, McNabb led the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFC Championship Game for the third of what would be four consecutive years. McNabb isn’t the greatest to ever play quarterback, but his career speaks for itself.
Furthermore, if we’re hardly ten years removed from that, can we be so sure the sentiment isn’t still ou there?
So in Year 2, when Newton’s first 6 games aren’t overly impressive, yet consistent with what he’d done the year before, there are people who are rushing to confirm what was once already proven to be baseless misrepresentations of Newton’s ability and character. What would make people want to do that?
Warren Moon is skeptical, and as much as it hurts to say so, he’s probably right to think that race plays a role in the rush to criticize. The rush to prove him wrong only illustrates that.