Cam Newton, black quarterback

Cam Newton is black.

Normally, these days, one wouldn’t make that distinction about the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback. But he brought up the issue himself recently, questioning whether football fans are ready: “I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”

Of course, he’s not the first. Charles Follis became the first black professional football player in 1904. Fritz Pollard in the 1920s played on the league’s first championship team and then served as the league’s first black coach. Willie Thrower became the league’s first black quarterback with the Chicago Bears in 1953. And, of course, Doug Williams, of Grambling fame, became the Super Bowl XXII MVP in 1988 with the Washington Redskins.

But Newton has a point. As much as we want to believe that race no longer matters in American life or in our national pastime, surely it still does.

I think of a conversation I had with John Wooten, an African-American contemporary of Bill Nunn Jr., who served as the Dallas Cowboys’ director of pro scouting for 17 years. He continues to work for greater integration of the league, particularly among the front office, coaching and scouting ranks.

cam_newton_afr_usatsi“Do we have mountains to climb?” Wooten said. “Yes. But we’re so far from where we were. When I came into this league in 1959, there wasn’t a black coach anywhere. The only blacks you saw, other than the few players, were those that were sweeping up the floor, doing the laundry. That’s what you saw. Now you look out across the field and not only do you see the players, but you see the coaches on the sideline, you see the game day officials.”

And on Super Bowl Sunday, you will see the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback.

1 thought on “Cam Newton, black quarterback

  1. Your blog is a great starting point and I enjoyed reading it after Linked In recommended it today. I hope you’ll return to comment in depth after the game and watching twitter/social media on this topic. What intrigues me about Cam Newton, African-American quarterback, is how starkly different he is in public (and somewhat private) persona compared to Doug Williams when he was in the media spotlight with the Redskins. The coverage this week, and especially during and after the game, I hope will include a discussion about the almost social symbols Newton and Manning might be for Americans. Manning, the white-skinned establishment quarterback, hobbled and past his prime: will he get to fulfill the symbolic retirement as champion that (maybe) so many white male aging viewers might be rooting for? If he does, are they just rooting for Manning, who stands in for them, or are they also rooting against the young black-skinned Newton who pushes against establishment in a variety of ways [celebrations on the field, news stories off the field about ‘pay-for-play’ and his having a child without being married throughout this college and pro career]? Your blog is a great starting point, I hope you’ll return to comment in depth after the game and watching twitter/social media on this topic. Or maybe not, too, because the inane and cruel content likely to pop up is awful. Last note – saw you speak at Point Park, enjoy it and your Pens work too.


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