Super Bowl 50

DAB: Cam Newton and the Threat of the White Gaze

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Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) reacts after running for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. The Panthers won 35-27. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) reacts after running for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. The Panthers won 35-27. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Over the course of the last season, much has been said about the Carolina Panther's MVP, Cam Newton. He has a sizzle reel of highlights often parading his prowess, talent, and athletic ability on the gridiron for all of America to watch in awe–or in some cases, disgust.

Recently, as Cam Newton has performed on the field (45 total touchdowns, 3,837 Passing yards, 636 rushing), he has been strongly criticized for his end zone displays of enthusiasm. Many of the detractors who feel that way are white sports fans who have reached their limit with Cam - some even demanding Cam to apologize. After perusing their grievances and trying to ground them in some type of logic, I found that what they were asking Cam to apologize for wasn’t logical at all. They weren’t asking him to apologize for his flashy play, his supposed lack of sportsmanship, or even his arrogance, but for his blackness itself.

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At its core, White America’s dislike of Cam Newton is steeped in a long tradition of paternalistic attitudes towards Black male athletes. Cam Newton isn’t the first athlete to threaten whites with his sheer existence. We recently saw Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch face scrutiny for their unapologetic Black appearances. Serena Williams even found the same kind of hate following her Grand Slam appearances. Going even further, Muhammad Ali experienced something eerily similar to what Cam is going through now and, like Cam, addressed it head-on. The issue: the white gaze.

The white gaze  defined by George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University, is described as looking at the world through the eyes of a white person who has undertones of, or is blatant in, their racism. And this gaze has a thread throughout American history between Black men and their white observationists.

The issue: the white gaze

This same gaze empowered white overseers as they monitored slaves and policed their every move on the plantation. Throughout the prolonged and brutal era of enslavement, any slave who looked as if he was threatening or subverting The Establishment was labeled as a rebel and dealt with accordingly.

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In the same vein, Cam Newton’s refusal to comply with the belief that a Black quarterback must be gentle or even docile is what makes him less palatable to white audiences and subsequently more threatening. However, Cam’s mischaracterization by white sports fans and media has nothing to do with Cam, but everything to do with their deep and historical desire to paternalize the Black body. 

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What most don't understand is that Cam’s tendency to diverge from white expectation has sent racist fans into a frenzy for the same reasons that whites have criticized Black athletes since the beginning of integrated sports. Most of the critiques of his sportsmanship are based on how he refuses to play football in the “traditional” (i.e. white) way. Which has always threatened organized sports.

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SlaveAuction

Traditionally, America has always found the stereotype of the docile negro more digestible than the one who is more confident and comfortable in his/her Blackness. Cam is no different. His refusal to submit to the white gaze triggers the deeply ingrained fear of the uncontrollable negro.

Fueling much of white fear of Cam is his influence on white children. In fact, the article that first brought his conduct into question came from a white mother who complained that Cam’s behavior had made a bad impression on her 9 year-old daughter:  “Won’t he get in trouble for doing that? Is he trying to make people mad? Do you think he knows he looks like a spoiled brat?”

From the tone of both Rosemary Plorin and her child, it’s clear that they don’t see Cam as the 26 year-old man and multi-million dollar athlete that he is, but more so, a misbehaving child that doesn’t have good home training. This serves an example of the paternalistic gaze that is often projected onto black men regularly - despite multi million dollar contracts and endorsement deals, let alone talent and agency.

Many white sports fans - especially Carolina Panther fans - think that they own Cam Newton and have stake in telling him what is and isn't acceptable. But to all of Cam’s detractors trying to police his behavior, I pose the following question:

Would you be equally as critical of Cameron Newton and his style of play if he was a white quarterback who decided to celebrate in the end zone?

From the condescending op-eds to the racist comments on social media, it’s clear that White America is broken up over the fact that they can’t police Cam, his style, or his behavior. Black men aren’t children. They cannot be quelled, tamed, or contained– especially by white perception.

Cam’s refusal to acquiesce to these incessant demands is nothing short of revolutionary. At a time when Black people across the nation are reclaiming their freedom, it’s refreshing to see Black athletes do the same. Super Bowl win or not, Cam Newton is already a winner in my book. His unapologetic Blackness has championed a new standard for Black quarterbacks and athletes at-large. And those are the kinds of touchdowns we need to see more of in every end zone.  *DAB*

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Cropped Avi | Tyreebp
Cropped Avi | Tyreebp

I am a man on a mission! As a writer, I expound on Black culture from a millennial perspective and unite and empower marginalized communities through journalism and social media. A Master’s in African American Studies, I’m also the creator of The Corner, a one-hour student run weekly radio at Temple University. Follow me on Twitter: @Tyreebp..