Cam Newton is also an incredibly gifted athlete with a level of on-field intellectual capital and physicality unmatched by any quarterback in the modern era. Delivering Charlotte a 15-1 regular season record and rocking the league with 45 touchdowns, the 2015 NFL MVP award is all but a guarantee. But, Newton is also black—unapologetically, unflinchingly black.
“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to,” he told reporters at one press conference.
Newton isn’t the first black quarterback to make an NFL roster, nor the first to start (and potentially win) a Super Bowl. Still, he belongs to a small fraternity that includes Warren Moon and Michael Vick to play the position on a professional level. There was Doug Williams, who became the first to take home a Super Bowl ring as a starter for Washington in 1988. It would be nearly 30 years before Russell Wilson did it again in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Newton brings a disciplined consistency that Williams never had. And, in what may turn out to be the most electrifying rivalry since Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Wilson and Newton are set to battle for at least the next decade. Wilson, a three-time Pro Bowler who already has a ring, is the highest rated passer in the league. But if Newton keeps coming up out of the pocket, the Seahawks may not see another NFC championship for a minute.
Newton, however, is more Deion Sanders than Williams or Wilson—more of a cultural “prime time” than the “guy next door.” Newton isn’t concerned about the “respectability” of it. He is focused on winning and makes no apology for enjoying the fruits of his labor. His brash, in-game celebrations, and predilection for Versace zebra-print pants and Christian Louboutin high-tops have earned him a bevy of detractors. This Sunday, Jackie and Cecil’s middle son will suit up in a pair of custom Under Amour Curry Twos.
He can well afford it.
The Carolina Panthers signed the 26-year-old to a five-year, $100 million contract that included a $22 million signing bonus and $60 million guaranteed. And if an opponent isn’t enamored with his touchdown celebrations, as Newton—whose father and older brother are former NFL players—has said repeatedly, then they need to keep him out of the end zone.
But if you ask Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, Newton is a disrespectful show-boater who deserves to have his “ass” knocked out “of the game.”
“His head is so high,” Dent told USAToday, “he’s going to have a problem after he’s finished playing—personality-wise—if he doesn’t get to where he wants to be.”
“He’s been questioned for a lack of leadership. He’s been questioned for his dabbin’ and dancing after scoring touchdowns, for taking photos of teammates at the end of a blowout win,” wrote David Newton (no relation, of course) for ESPN. “But Newton said he’s the same person now as he was when the Panthers made him the first pick of the 2011 draft.”
“The only thing that’s changed,” Cam Newton said, “is we’re winning,"
Arrogance is never is short supply inside an NFL locker room and Newton is no exception. He was groomed by a collection of family and coaches to believe that there was nothing he could not do, nothing he could not have if he put in the work.
The Atlanta native, who says the cynics only make him work harder, has been winning for a long time—earning a five-star prospect rating on Rivals.com as the No. 2 “dual-threat quarterback” in the country. His solution: Keep putting the football in the end zone.
“Find any way—any way—to win a football game,” Newton said, according to ESPN. “’Cause when you win [chuckling], that’s going to give them something else to talk about.”