The commentators post-game, white mothers writing articles in The Denver Post, and many Broncos fans on my Facebook feed, all want to talk about how humble, how gracious, how classy, Dear Peyton Manning is.
And while I can't disagree--Peyton Manning seems like a lovely, hilarious, kind man--I can't help but notice these praises seem meant to come at the cost of Cam Newton.
Yeah. I think I'm witnessing some pretty thinly veiled racism, over and over.
Headlines read: "Cam Newton Wanted to Disappear. He Should Have Known He Couldn't." or "Cam Newton loses Super Bowl, sulks." or "Cam Newton fails to show leadership by bailing after Super Bowl loss." Tweeters delight in posting the WHOLE TEN LINE transcript from Cam Newton's post-game conference, where he, I feel, more than fairly offered:
"They just played better than us. I don't know what you want me to say. They made more plays than us, and that's what it comes down to. We had our opportunities. It wasn't nothing special that they did. We dropped balls, we turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes. That's it. They scored more points than us."
So he didn't do it with a smile. So he left after questions became obnoxious and repetitive. So he needed a moment to himself after his team just lost what reporters will certainly call "one of the biggest games of his life."
WTF does everyone want? A cookie? For feeling vindicated in asserting Cam Newton models "egotism, arrogance, and poor sportsmanship" as one Tennessee mom said in the Charlotte Observer. She was distressed by Cam's display of celebration. God forbid she have to explain The Dab to her nine-year-old, whose confident opinion of Cam was, "...he looks like a spoiled brat".
All of this criticism, all of this loud, WHITE, opinion, really gets under my skin. MY WHITE SKIN. Because this is about respectability politics. This is about policing black bodies. This is about trying to force a young black man to conform to some white idea of what showing humility, or leadership, or proper football etiquette, means.
In ways, Manning and Newton are as alike as they are different.
Peyton Manning is a legacy player, and he grew up incredibly wealthy, in a family where life was eat-sleep-breathe football. He doesn't wear his feelings on his forever-jersey'd, quietly Christian, sleeve. His talent, cultivated since the day his Daddy Manning could pass him a football, has made him one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He has the two Super Bowl rings and five NFL MVP awards to prove it.
Cam Newton, an incredible player who grew up in a middle-class family with a sort-of NFL legacy, attended a Pentecostal church founded by his grandparents, and has an athletic prowess that was recognized early by coaches and teammates--and his father, who was also passing the ball with his son as early as possible. Eric Nusbaum of Vice, who flew down to Georgia to write a piece called "The House that Built Cam," found that younger Cam Newton "was hyper-competitive, a hard worker, and the kind of kid who built his teammates up, who brought them with him. He was also something of a quarterbacking savant, even back then. His quarterbacks coach at Westlake, Tony Slaton, called him a "mad scientist." His running back, Michael Harrison, said, "He's so football smart, it's crazy." Cam Newton is coming in hot on that Best Quarterback in the History of the NFL title, right on Peyton's heels. What (white) people can't seem to stomach is the way he is doing it. The way they've determined he ought to do it.
The biggest difference between these men is the most important. Because this is a changing of the guard. This is classic meets modern. This is white meets black.
Here are some loose and fast statistics: the majority of players in the NFL are black. There have been very, very few, black quarterbacks in the NFL. The majority of team owners is white. The majority of pundits and reporters and media telling us about the NFL is white. The majority of people with exceeding, specific, amounts of power over players in the NFL is white.
At least, that seems to be how the legions of angry, thinly veiled racist white folks seem to be taking it. Like Black is the new White. Like White is so 1865. Like Black is trending, and White is so yesterday. Like any reasonable response to President Barack Obama is President Donald Trump.
Here's where white folks are getting it wrong. IT ISN'T ABOUT YOU. AT ALL. PLEASE. SIDELINE YOURSELF. PLEASE. STOP HAVING SO MANY OPINIONS. PLEASE. LISTEN, FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE--LISTEN. I know it's scary, to feel voiceless, to feel less than, to feel as though culturally what you say and do matters less than what others say and do, like you have some kind of powerlessness in your life simply based on the color of your--OH WAIT, NO I DON'T.
So here's where I want to end. #blacklivesmatter. The way white people talk about #blacklives needs to start mattering less. Let's hear from black people about black people. I should be an echo, a small white voice, defending an incredible young black man, in a sea of black voices. But to hear the black voices, the white ones need to pipe down. The white ones need to listen more than speak. I'm listening! Are you?
"Cam Newton dances after touchdowns. He hits the dab. He smiles. If Peyton Manning makes quarterbacking look like work, Cam Newton makes it look like play. In fact, that's what everybody, even his critics, seems to agree on when it comes to Cam Newton: he makes football look like fun. He plays the game with the same joyful spirit he did growing up."