No (dis)Grace: Cam Newton and the Emotional Labor of Blackness

The Panthers lost the Super Bowl.  Peyton Manning won his second ring on the backs of a Denver Defense that ain’t nothing nice.  Cam Newton didn’t shine, didn’t get to dab, didn’t ever seem to fall into the rhythm fans have become accustomed to this season.  He wasn’t playing with the joy and jubilant energy we were used to seeing.  He didn’t bless us with that all-star smile from the sidelines.  Instead he was all business from the start, serious, undoubtedly putting the responsibility of saving the season for his team on his shoulders.  But like only one other time this season, winning wasn’t to be.  And that’s okay.  I am confident there will be other Carolina Panther featured Super Bowls, and unlike the last time the Panthers lost in the Super Bowl, I was prepared, it wasn’t in overtime, it wasn’t off a technicality, it didn’t break my heart.  But I know it broke Cam Newton’s.  How could it not?

In a year and season where he was recognized as both Offensive Player of the Year and MVP, and making his Super Bowl debut in the midst of hyper criticality around everything from him wearing socks with flops (perhaps it’s a country thing, but I do too, in fact I’m wearing some ankle socks and Adidas slides right now) to celebrating on the field, Newton gets to be pissed.  He gets to be disappointed.  It should not be surprising that he wasn’t up to talking about it right after the game.  Who the hell is up to talking after a devastating loss? Hell, I wasn’t taking calls for about 30 minutes after the game and I am just a fan.

The general practice in championship games is that the losing team and coach are protected from media immediately following the game so that they can process and prepare themselves for the inevitable interview.  The spotlight then, rightfully goes to the winning team, and their celebration.  Generally, the losing team is given some time to gather their thoughts, grieve the loss with their teammates, and then face the crowd.  But nah, not this year, not this quarterback.  The public was anxious to see what he had to say about failing.  Cam Newton was rushed to the podium when he normally has an hour after the game to get ready for a post-game interview, especially following a loss (hence him not having time to shower or change while his teammates were interviewed in suits and with a little more perspective).  He was devastated and downtrodden, just the way folk wanted to see him.  But he wasn’t crying, or pouting, or playing, which was how folk wanted to frame him.

So he was curt, brief, and bothered when being bombarded with questions he had not fully processed about a game he had barely finished playing.  He was angry, visibly upset and stern.  Disappointed.  Heart-broken.  And short-tempered.  But he was not a bad sport, he was not disrespectful, he was not disgraceful or any less of a role model than he was when Beyoncé was giving life during the halftime show.  Despite what you heard, he walked away from the interview after 3 minutes because he was being questioned in the same room where Broncos player Chris Harris was being interviewed nearby, talking ish about how they shut him down.  No doubt the Broncos deserved their moment of celebration and cockiness, but Cam deserved his moment of privacy.

And here’s the thing.  Cam Newton can’t be happy or sad without folk trying to police his emotions.  When he is happy, excited and joyful to the point of embodying it, he is labeled disrespectful and arrogant.  When he is sad, disappointed and angry (likely at himself for not being able to orchestrate a comeback), he is labeled disrespectful and arrogant.  FOH.  Most of that is housed in antiblackness, the criminality of the black male body, the inaccessibility of cool masculinity, and resentment that after generations of bearing the emotional weight and labor of white folk, black folk out here being carefree and ish.  But, like most things about black life and artistry, if white supremacist patriarchy can’t control it, it’ll demean and demoralize it.

I’m not at all here for folk trying to dictate how black women and men get to grieve and express sadness, especially when that same judgment is re-packaged for white people.  An article re-circulated about Peyton Manning from 2010 states:

“Peyton Manning didn’t shake hands with New Orleans Saints players after his Indianapolis Colts lost 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Apparently some think this is a sign of poor sportsmanship from the NFL’s greatest player. It’s not.

Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn’t at all disrespectful or bitter. It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?”

Enter Cam Newton, superstar quarterback, MVP and black.  Evidently a lot of folk can argue with that.  Cam was gracious and respectful to Peyton on the football field. The fact that when Peyton was far less gracious with Drew Brees, but was given all the grace and benefits of the doubt from media, I ain’t even halfway here for folk coming at Cam like that, especially when (as per usual) only half the story is reported.

Apparently, a lot of folk, especially racist ones, attempted to use Cam leaving the interview as evidence of his classlessness and buffoonery.  In particular, Bill Romanowski, a former ain’t ish player who said in an interview leading up to the Super Bowl that if he was still playing and Cam was in a pile that he would choke him, sent out a tweet in which he referred to Cam as a “boy.”  But of course he didn’t intend any racial under and overtones, claiming later that he only meant Cam needed to “grow up”.  FOH.

Everyone wants Cam to be humble and gracious, and there is nothing more humbling than a huge loss when the world is watching.  And grace, grace is a two-way street.  And in my opinion, whether it matters or not, Cam hasn’t fallen from it, he is rarely given it, as a black man, in the first place.  We need to wrestle with the ways that all the money, power, influence and talent in the world won’t protect us from the ways racism is embedded in how we are seen, treated, and reported about (because…Beyoncé).  And I appreciate articles that are out here offering a nuanced race critique of all this concentration and concentrated hate on how Cam gracefully negotiated a complicated situation.  What he didn’t do was get confrontational or defensive.  He walked away.  And in some situations, that is the most graceful response you can give.

Now run tell dat.


10 thoughts on “No (dis)Grace: Cam Newton and the Emotional Labor of Blackness

  1. Cam also congratulated Peyton and told him he played a great game. Peyton said it was really nice.
    So, thank you for making the obvious OBVIOUS!

  2. I would have knocked over alllllll those microphones. I thought he showed incredible restraint. No matter what you do, fault will be found. Do what you can live with.

  3. This isn’t critical feminist thinking. Critical feminist thinking would take the gaze elsewhere. On the unseen and unheard “women”. And not the obvious aka Beyonce! There has been enough prose on this brother.

    1. Gender includes men and women and trans and queer and everyone. An intersectional feminist perspective on black masculinity? Yes, please and thank you, CFC.

  4. What I observed was Cams emotions DURING the game. He was flat. No rallying his team. Sitting by himself… only emotions were negative. He was not himself. Too much pre game hype? Don’t know.

  5. I so appreciate this perspective. I think Cam was heart broken and did the best he could in the moment. Who is in a position to cast stones?

    1. Broken hearted during the game???? Why?
      Broken hearted after the game… can understand… he thought he would win. .. the team under estimated the Denver Defense. Peyton Manning did nothing. . Just enough to win…

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