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An Open Letter To Cam Newton – Rap Rehab

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    Last year I thanked Marshawn Lynch for not talking, this year I have to thank you for what you have said. Thank you for admitting the truth about the reason “they” hate you. Even if you’ve since clarified your statements for political reasons, you still admitted you were stating facts. A valuable discussion commenced based on those facts.

    You just finished a banner season where you lost your top receiving threat but still managed to succeed. You didn’t just keep the Panthers’ foot in the door, you blew the hinges off and took them to the big game. Your season was full of spectacular throws, flawless dabs and “I got this” head nods preceding game-winning drives. Given that the NFL is smugly indulgent in its own lore, the league should be doing nothing but thanking you for the NFL films fodder.

    Instead though, your MVP season has been marred by constant criticism. If it’s not crotchety analysts who rant about you threatening the “purity of the game” until they’re flush in the face, it’s a parent whining that you dance too much, despite the fact that after every dance you perform the football equivalent of kissing babies. I wonder if she wrote a letter to Bill Belicheck about him constantly running up the score in blowouts?

    This week, former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher suggested that you conduct yourself more like Peyton Manning after touchdowns, with a simple handshake. Though there’s no way to know Urlacher’s thoughts on race, but his statements reek of the respectability politics Black folk face every day.

    Since America’s inception, Black people have been expected to adhere strictly to Eurocentric standards or face ostracization. We’re expected to dress a certain way, wear our hair a certain way, speak a certain way, be jubilant a certain way, even give our children certain names.

    It’s naïve to assume that air of systemic adherence hasn’t infiltrated the sports world. If anything, the athletic world may be the most comfortable resting place for it to reside in 2016. The Black conscious community can protest respectability politics every day, but athletes can’t say anything outside of “we gave our all and did our best to win” without facing the ire of indignant pundits and angry fans alike.

    In a league that doesn’t even let you wear your socks the way you want, you are an outlier. Your jubilance is irrepressible, and you rightfully embrace every success in a game you know has the chance to unalterably change your life on any given play.

    You mentioned that you’re incomparable, and that may very well be true skillset-wise. Your demeanor reminds me of Brett Favre though, who threw “classy” out the window every time he scored. He jumped around and even picked up teammates, and writers were admiring his “boyish exuberance” even at age 40. Will they ever realize you represent the same thing?

    Brett-and nearly every other white QB have always enjoyed the privilege to conduct themselves how they wanted without much—if any–criticism. They called their teammates “idiots,” cursed their teammates, and they were simply called field generals. You scrawl your teammates’ name on your shoes, and instead of admiring the communal atmosphere you’ve built with your them critics are moreso upset that you guys dance together.

    As the Missouri University football team’s agency has showed us, athletes have a ton of power, and it can incite change when they decide not to trade it for access. This situation pales in comparison to the serious issues affecting our world, but like I wrote about Lynch, your small decision to stay true to yourself is valued. The same way we rue microaggressions that hint at large-scale racism, we should celebrate small victories that mean substantially more than they appear to.

    Racism isn’t just an elephant in the room of the sports world, it’s Terrance Knighton and Vince Wilfork sitting on top of that elephant. Perhaps your acknowledgment of the bias against Black QBs will wake up the analysts who are happy to collect their checks and flout the postracial myth. Perhaps those who believe progression begins with dismissing racism will recollect their beliefs and realize all progressive thought inherently starts with analyzing our racial divide.

    For now though, dance on. Remain steadfast in your expression and don’t apologize to anyone who can’t understand that you mean no harm. Every time you hit the endzone and do your thing, you’re a beacon for those among us who fight against white America’s discomfort with unabashed Blackness everyday. Seeing you be unapologetic about who you are will inspire the youth to stay dancing, stay loud, and stay buoyantly Black with no shame.

    Andre G is a writer, poet, and co-founder of ColorTheFuture.org, a platform for young artists of color. @melaninaire