Media Dialogues about ‘Race’ in Super Bowl 50

Dr. Nancy E. Spencer
February 7, 2016
The time between January 24 and February 7, 2016 may seem like “the longest two weeks of the NFL season”  (Rosenthal, 2016, para. 1). However, during those two weeks, the media manages to construct story lines that generate plenty of hype. The lead-up to Super Bowl 50 was no exception. On Thursday, January 28, Cam Newton, Quarterback of the Carolina Panthers kick-started one conversation with his response to a question about why he had taken so much heat for his celebratory behavior on the field. Newton responded by saying, “I’m an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to” (Samuel, 2016, para. 4). Cam’s statements fanned the controversy that had begun earlier in the season. Most of the criticism stemmed from his style of celebration that consisted of dabbing; some parents characterized his dances as “arrogant struts” and “pelvic thrusts” (Samuel, 2016, para. 9).
Despite teaching in a Sport Management program, I must confess that I did not watch a lot of football this season. Being a Browns’ fan does that to you. But I did catch some of the play-offs and saw what has become a tradition whenever Newton scores a touchdown. In this case, he awarded it to a young girl in the stands. I was so enamored by the spontaneous expression on her face that I took the photo below and posted it on my new Instagram account:
IMG_20160117_133933
Later that week, I heard Cam’s statement followed by ensuing conversations on various media outlets. On First Take, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless navigated the thorny terrain of racial dialogue that can become contentious. In their conversation, Skip carefully outlined his ‘credentials’ as if to suggest that he should in no way be construed as ‘racist’ in what he was about to say. In fact, he took so much time emphasizing that he was not a racist that I cannot remember what he said about Cam’s statement.
Several days before Cam made the statement (above), Stephen A. Smith speculated that Newton would be the “villain” of Super Bowl 50 and that most of America would “be rooting for the fairy tale ending for Peyton Manning” (Miller, 2016, para. 5). Smith emphasized that his prediction had nothing to do with race. Rather, he suggested that it was just about people wanting a happy ending for Peyton; and besides, he added, “people are annoyed with Cam and the Superman pose and all this other stuff” (Miller, 2016, para. 10).
After watching countless conversations about Cam Newton that tried to convince it was not about race, how are we to have a fruitful dialogue? Ironically, (or maybe not), the Daily Show (now featuring Trevor Noah) did one of the best takes on how we could understand the conversation started by Cam Newton. Maybe Comedy Central is where we need to convene our much-needed dialogue about race!
References
Miller, R. (2016, January 25). Will Cam Newton become Super Bowl 50 villain? Stephen A. Smith will ‘bet check’ it happens. NJ.com. Retrieved from http://www.nj.com/super-bowl/index.ssf/2016/01/is_cam_newton_super_bowl_50_villain_stephen_a_smith_will_bet_check_it_happens.html
Rosenthal, G. (2016, January 25). Seven big storylines heading into Super Bowl 50. NFL.com. Retrieved from http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000628271/article/seven-big-storylines-heading-into-super-bowl-50
Samuel, E. (2016, January 28). Cam Newton: ‘I’m an African-American QB that scares people.’ The Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/cam-newton-african-american-qb-scares-people-article-1.2511614

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s