Cam Newton, Warren Moon, Nolan Nawrocki, The Media, & Racism Fatigue

Before the 2011 NFL draft, football experts and writers seemed to malign Cameron Newton, former University of Auburn quarterback, arguably more than any other collegiate athlete in NCAA history. It seemed like Newton was the most hated college athlete in a generation—hate fueled by media pundits and sports writers, notwithstanding Newton’s athletic prowess on the field, that ultimately led Cam Newton to an undefeated season, national championship, and Heisman Trophy.

After one of these pundits, Nolan Nawrocki, gave a scathing assessment of Newton, Cam’s mentor (and NFL legend), Warren Moon, went so far as to call the treatment of Newton by some within the media as racist.  Subsequently, many people within the media, bloggers, and members of message boards called Warren Moon a racist, or at least accused Moon of playing the race card.

Now I don’t personally know whether Moon was 100 percent right in his opinion about Newton’s treatment by some within the sports world as being racist, but I still can’t dismiss his feelings out of hand as some whites tried to do.

It seems like every time a black man points out that there may be racism in play when whites are judging blacks, some whites get on their moral high horses and immediately try to put the black person in a negative light (notwithstanding that there may be some truth behind the accusations). My position is that there are indeed situations where racism, or at least a racial component, does play a part in a white person’s judgment of a black person, particularly in a culture where whites have historically oppressed blacks.  The unfortunate part is that it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to substantiate a claim of racism in most of these situations.  This being the case, I find it a bit incredulous that some whites would outright denigrate the accuser (in this case, Warren Moon).

As an experienced football fan, I know that some of the criticism of Cam Newton was valid.  Yes, he was only a QB on the “big stage” of college football for a year (meaning he was a very raw talent).  Yes, Newotn ran about as much as he passed.  And, yes, Cam did have some off-field issues in college that led to character concerns.  But Nawrocki went so far as to call Cam Newton’s smile “fake”, and he basically called Cam Newton a “bad” person in so many words.  Nawrocki came to all of these conclusions, notwithstanding that Newton’s coaches, teammates, and people within his local community said otherwise.  Moreover, Nawrocki has some sources yet to be revealed that he says substantiated his claims, but many of the parties involved said Nawrocki never spoke to them.  Even years later, Nawrocki has never revealed his sources, and Cam Newton has pretty much discredited Nawrocki’s contention by being a pretty good leader on the field, and a model citizen within his community as a pro.  Again, all this aside, Chris Nawrocki questioned the sincerity of Cam Newton’s smile.

As a black man in America who has personally experienced acts of racism over the years, wouldn’t you think that I would raise an eyebrow if someone’s professional assessment of me attacked my smile?  But I suppose there are whites who cannot identify with this sensitivity, so they feel the need to dismiss the fact that race may play any role in the assessment of blacks (especially in positions that have been historically white, like NFL quarterback).  It would seem to me that as opposed to being outright and immediately dismissive in regards to whether racism is an ingredient in white judgment of blacks, whites would at the very least be cautious and thoughtful about racism that may very well exist, even if they don’t necessarily believe that racism is a factor.  I mean, how can you disregard a man—bordering on disrespect—if you haven’t walked in his shoes, especially when it comes to issues of discrimination, race and racism?

Fortunately for me I try to be very thoughtful about the situation.  I realize that many people want to outright deny that racism is prevalent in society, or want to sweep it under the rug as though it doesn’t exist (and never existed, really).  Some people don’t care,  or don’t want to deal with the guilt, history, responsibility or whatever, so they not only deny racism when it really doesn’t play a role, but also deny racism even when someone makes a claim of racism that could indeed be valid.  Realizing these truths, I try and give the benefit of the doubt and extend a certain amount of grace to people that just may be plain ignorant.  As a result, I am not quick to rush in and call every suspect act of a white person against a black person as racist (even if it may be the case).  Moreover, I feel that many whites have tired of every questionable act being labeled an act of racism, so they may suffer from what I have coined and defined as racism fatigue.  This racism fatigue not only makes whites overly defensive when questions of race and racism come up, but also causes whites to be insensitive in situations where discrimination, race and racism actually play an underlying role in their judgment and decisions in regards to non-whites.  Because of this racism fatigue, I feel that it’s not necessarily prudent to label every little act as definitive racism because it risks downplaying more serious and/or overt acts of racism against blacks and other oppressed racial groups.  Even if you believe that racism exists in a situation, unfortunately sometimes you just have to suck it up and pick your battles.

In the case of Cam Newton and Warren Moon, I got into several discussions with a few whites on message boards about whether or not some within the media went overboard about Newton, and whether Moon may have had a point about whether racism played a role in what seemed to cross into the realm of personal attacks.  I brought up the fact that because racism really can’t be proved that perhaps it’s best to leave the subject alone.  But some of my peers wanted to go on and on about how Nolan Nawrocki was just giving his fair evaluation of Cam Newton based upon sources that Nawrocki refused to disclose, and these same message board members accused Moon of playing the race card.  Some even went as far as to call Moon a racist (and all this after I respectfully asked them to leave the subject alone).  It really wasn’t until other white writers wrote that perhaps there may be something to Warren Moon’s criticism of the media that some of the message board loud-mouths finally piped down.  Like I told them, I suppose that it’s easy for a white man to be dismissive of a black man about a black man’s charges of racism, but that it’s a little more difficult for them to disregard the notion when a white man admits that there may be some truth to what the black man is saying.  In their eyes at least, perhaps questions of racism in regards to whites against blacks comes better served from a white man.

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