Will Cam Newton’s race become an issue in Boston if the Patriots don’t win?
Sports Pulse: While the NFL is moving in the right direction will individual teams follow? USA TODAY
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton likely isn’t considering the question, the question others are thinking about, the question that involves race, sports and Boston, three components that often combine into a toxic potion.
Newton may not be thinking about it, but others are, and the question goes like this: If Newton’s tenure in New England falters, will Patriots fans see Newton as solely a failed quarterback, or because of Boston’s historically ugly racial dynamics, will he be viewed as a failed Black quarterback?
NFL players, several team officials across the NFL and even some in the league office have wondered what it would be like for Newton playing in one of the more racially hostile environments for African American athletes in the country. The concern wasn’t just how his initial reception would go with fans, but also how they’d react if the Patriots failed to make the playoffs.
Some of those same people say they are holding their breath now watching Newton, and hoping the extremism other athletes of color faced in Boston doesn’t happen to him as the Patriots may miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. (Photo: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
The Patriots are 4-6 and Newton, who missed one game after the NFL placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list, continues to struggle in the passing game. He has four touchdown passes and seven interceptions on the season. Newton does have nine rushing scores.
If you think the question is unfair, hysterics, or too hypothetical, you haven’t paid attention to what’s been happening in Boston for decades. Not just the distant past, either, but now.
Boston Celtics great Bill Russell spoke in August about the racial abuse he endured as a player. Years after Russell, another Celtics player, Marcus Smart, detailed numerous racist incidents he experienced, including being called a racial slur right outside the team’s home arena. The Red Sox were forced to apologize to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones in 2017 after fans hurled racist slurs and peanuts at him during a game.
Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart wrote in a column for the Players’ Tribune that he was called a racial slur by a white woman outside the TD Garden in Boston. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (Photo: The Associated Press)
The incidents of racism in Boston sports got so bad, and so numerous, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team examined the history of racism and slurs directed at athletes of color. Boston’s racism was even part of “Saturday Night Live” in 2017.
“I always worry that with (Newton), if it doesn’t work out, some fans in Boston will say, ‘See, you shouldn’t have wasted money on that Black quarterback,’” said Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Boston University, and member of the school’s Center for Antiracist Research.
Courtney Cox, a professor of race and sports at the University of Oregon, compared Newton’s potential situation to that of European soccer players like “(Karim) Benzema who say, ‘When I score, I’m French. When I don’t, I’m an Arab.’ I think (Romelu) Lukaku and (Mesut) Ozil have said similar things (with) winning as a means of full acceptance and citizenship and losing, as relegation to, ‘Other.’ The racial history of the quarterback position, coupled with Boston’s history, seemingly compound that potential rhetoric.”
“Black quarterbacks are still judged differently, often harsher,” said Kenneth Shropshire, the CEO of Arizona State University’s Global Sports Institute, and author of In Black and White: Race and Sports in America. “In (Newton’s) case you can’t overlook the history of Boston.”
Grundy said she believes that Boston’s racial history is so problematic, it’s possible Newton got “the talk.”
“I think a lot of Black people when it comes to Boston have had ‘the talk,’” said Grundy. “When you’re Black and move to Boston you get ‘the talk’ about where you can go safely, where you can’t, the sundown parts of town. We all get that talk. I’m sure (Newton) got it, too.”
If it wasn’t hard enough to be a Black quarterback in Boston, Newton follows Tom Brady, winner of six Super Bowls and three Most Valuable Player awards, and is the greatest quarterback of all time.
After nine Super Bowl appearances, nine conference championships and 17 AFC East titles since 2001, the Patriots are in third place in the division. They are only ahead of the 0-10 Jets. A depleted roster is one reason while Newton’s at-times subpar play is another.
In an October game against San Francisco he threw for 98 yards and tossed three interceptions. For much of the season Newton has hovered near the bottom of the rankings in passing yards, completions, and throwing accuracy.
He’s still Cam Newton. He’s still electric and dangerous. It’s also possible the Patriots can make a serious run, and shock everyone by making the playoffs.
Still, what’s clear is the way New England runs its offense may not be sustainable and usually, in these instances, when things go bad the quarterback gets the blame, despite other reasons for the Patriots’ mediocrity.
Which brings us back to the question: If the Patriots can’t rescue their season, will his Blackness become part of the equation with Boston fans and others?
Meanwhile, inside the Patriots’ locker room, he’s immensely respected. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Nov. 17 during a video conference with reporters that Newton is “a tremendous example of what a leader is supposed to be.”
“Cam, he’s never wavered from his work ethic, from his attitude, from the way he approaches practice, the effort he gives on a daily basis,” McDaniels said via the Boston Herald. “Whether it be a meeting, a film session, a walkthrough, or any part of what we’re doing on the field, he is unselfish, he is accountable for any mistake he makes, he’s incredibly honest. Communication with Cam is exactly the kind of communication you’re looking for when you’re a coach. You ask a question, you get an honest response. If you made a mistake, he’ll tell you what it was, which again, there’s no better example for younger players, than to see a guy do that.”
Yet outside of New England others around the league watch Newton, wondering how he’ll be treated by fans if the team doesn’t make the postseason, with one eye focused on Newton, and the other on Boston’s history.If Cam Newton’s tenure in New England falters, will Patriots fans see Newton as solely a failed quarterback, or a failed Black quarterback?
Donald Trump’s speech Thursday showed if he can’t win, he’ll make sure all of America loses
Donald Trump’s rambling appearance at the White House on Thursday night was rife with lies, paranoia, conspiracy theories, self-pity and attacks on our democracy — none of which was what made it a strikingly deranged and menacing performance. After all, those have been hallmarks of his five-year political career. Instead what distinguished his first appearance since the wee hours of election night was the sense that the man who will occupy the highest office in the land for nearly 11 more weeks is unhinged, untethered, uninhibited and desperate in completely new ways.
Apparently reading prepared remarks, Trump started by congratulating himself and his party for unparalleled victories he hadn’t achieved, before falsely accusing Democrats of rigging the election in a cabal that doesn’t exist with the media, pollsters and “big tech” — never mind that this scheme apparently left them with a smaller House majority and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He once again assailed voting-by-mail, of which he has availed himself, decried imaginary corruption and fabricated instances of fraud.
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“I’ve read or watched all of Trump’s speeches since 2016,” Daniel Dale, CNN’s ace Trump fact-checker, tweeted afterward. “This is the most dishonest speech he has ever given.” It may also be the most dangerous.
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There was a whiff of Richard Nixon about the thing — not the maudlin rambling of Tricky Dick’s farewell speech to the White House staff, but the liberated pugilism of his famous “last press conference,” where he warned the media that “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Except Trump took the opposite tack: Instead of stalking into shadows, he swore to stand his ground — and burn it behind him.
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It was, perhaps, the first flares of his last campaign in his great war on Washington — one of scorched earth and settled scores. He laid down markers and once again demanded that the rest of the GOP and its allies fall in line. As the supposed alpha male of U.S. politics, Trump could once use the fear of his wrath, his Twitter account and his base to command Republicans’ loyalty, but he is now a loser with an end-date. Lines are being drawn even within the party.
Trump’s adult sons have positioned themselves as Daddy’s chief loyalty officers, calling out Republicans both in general and by name for not manning the ramparts. A handful have spoken up for calm, patience and democracy — but most are laying low, trying to skate by the latest Trump outrage as they largely have for four years. Others are seemingly prepared abet Trump’s political pyromania: California’s Kevin McCarthy, the vapid House Republican leader, declared on Fox News that Trump had won the election and exhorted viewers to “not be silent about this.”
Even short of such a direct threat to our system, Trump’s ravings are now actively harming our republic.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., assumed a familiar posture of supplication too: Asked by Fox’s Sean Hannity whether GOP-controlled legislatures in states that Biden seemingly won should award the state’s electors to Trump instead, he responded that “everything should be on the table.”
That would be a historic and frontal assault on the foundational concept that ours is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. The fact that it’s already moved from the far fringes onto Fox News — the mainstream media of the right — is horrifying.
But even short of such a direct threat to our system, Trump’s ravings are now actively harming our republic. Nearly 70 million Americans cast ballots for this narcissistic nihilist and, in the absence of his success, a nontrivial number will grimly choose their Dear Leader over their own lying eyes. You can see it in the protests at vote-counting sites in Michigan and Arizona, the legions desperate and angry enough to absorb whatever bile Trump feeds them. You can see it in reports of Philadelphia police Thursday night foiling an attack on vote-counters there.
“There is one essential institution in this country, one rampart that separates order from chaos, and it’s the ballot box,” Politico’s Tim Alberta tweeted Thursday, adding the warning: “We cannot begin to fathom how much damage that speech will do to the long-term health and stability of our country.”
But we could have known it would come to this.
Trump has never changed — not since Tuesday and not since he assumed the presidency. He is still the same blustering, bullying carnival-barker who is indifferent to facts and truth; he still thinks that anything less than fawning adulation is a slight that must be met with a counter-punch. He’s still the ultimate Norman Vincent Peale, power-of-positive-thinking huckster whose sales-pitch is his own unstoppable success.
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What has changed is the context: Trump is about to be a fully acknowledged historical loser on a national scale. “You know, winning is easy,” Trump said on Election Day afternoon. “Losing is never easy. Not for me it’s not.”
And he is going to make damned sure it’s not easy for any of the rest of us.
The crucible of loss has distilled him down to his destructive, vindictive core.
After four years of never growing into the role of president, he’s now begun diminishing into the role of ex-president. He is already rage-tweeting and threatening to sue, but he can stamp his feet and hold his breath until he’s blue in his orange-tinged face: The numbers are implacably moving against him. Even as Trump spoke Thursday, his once-formidable leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania kept shrinking; by Friday, both had disappeared entirely. Most of the networks cut away from his ramblings Thursday and noted that he was full of something other than the truth. “Are you being a sore loser?” a reporter yelled after Trump as he retreated from the briefing room.
He’s about to be a lame duck with a flamethrower, and we ought to be concerned whether he believes that he has to burn the place down on his way out as a final, perverse show of strength.
The crucible of loss has distilled him down to his destructive, vindictive core. And now we have to both endure that toxic nub of a leader and his political death throes while making sure that he doesn’t burn the country and our democracy down on his way out.
Robert Schlesinger, a veteran Washington journalist and commentator, is co-host of the Bipodisan podcast. He is the author of “White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters.”The speech from the White House decrying non-existent voter fraud shows how little Trump cares about American democracy if it doesn't benefit him personally. ]]>