Of the many bizarre and outrageous stories that have been in the news over the past week, from multiple terrorist attacks, U.S. military strikes on the Syrian army, and the never-ending cycle of death at the hands of police officers, perhaps none was more peculiar than the revelation in Sports Illustrated that the Carolina Panthers football team hired an extreme right-wing GOP consultant to coach quarterback Cam Newton on how to discuss race without being ‘offensive’ to people (i.e. white people). That’s right, Frank Luntz, who’s somewhat of a pioneer in the ‘art’ of dog-whistle racism in politics, is coaching Cam Newton – a Black man – on the appropriate ways to discuss race in America. Perhaps this is why he’s suddenly sounding a lot less like the Cam Newton of early 2016 and more like another Charles Barkley using #AllLivesMatter-type musings to counter the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists.
In order to fully appreciate just how greatly Cam Newton’s state of awareness has seemingly regressed, it’s necessary to look at where he was in late 2015/ early 2016. The first of many well-publicized covertly racialized attacks on Newton came in November of last year when the Charlotte Observer (and soon other media outlets) gave voice to a “concerned mother” who was outraged at the Carolina Panthers quarterback for having the audacity to do a celebratory dance (dabbin’ on ‘em) after he scored a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. Suddenly Newton’s dance was all the sports columnists and TV analysts talked about for weeks, some of them chiding the athlete for ‘unquarterback’-like behavior. The uproar surrounding the dance caused one Fox Sports commentator to suggest that Newton was every bit as polarizing and divisive as Donald Trump for failing to “act like a servant.” Another newspaper posted a letter from a reader criticizing Cam for fathering a baby without marrying the baby’s mother, as if this were somehow a circumstance that is unique to this quarterback (Tom Brady did not marry the mother of his child either and no one as much as batted an eyelid). After the Panthers lost the Super Bowl game in February to the Denver Broncos and observers deemed Cam Newton as not being sufficiently humble or showing the right amount of humility, all hell broke loose and the racists sunk their teeth into the quarterback. Sports magazines received letters from readers saying things like “Cam Newton has no class” and “the biggest curse we have in this country is n****rs.” And to his everlasting shame, former Denver Bronco Bill Romanowski derisively tweeted to 26 year-old Cam Newton, “You will never last in the NFL with that attitude. The world doesn’t revolve around you, boy!”
On January 27 Newton faced the criticism head-on when he said to the Charlotte Observer during a media session,
“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to… People are going to judge and have their own opinion on certain things that I don’t have control over, nor does anybody else.”
Fast forward to August and it was hard to imagine the Carolina Panthers were being touted as the most “unapologetically Black” team in NFL history only half a year prior. After a July month in which police brutally executed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, followed by the slaying of multiple police officers in Dallas and B.R. by lone gunmen in response, professional football players were feeling pressure not to speak out against racial injustice and police brutality. In an interview with GQ Magazine for its August-September edition, Cam Newton discussed race and the unusual amount of criticism he’s received in a way that completely contradicted the lived experience he’d shared with the Charlotte Observer in January. “It’s not racism,” said Newton.
“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. I don’t want this to be about race, because it’s not. It’s not. Like, we’re beyond that. As a nation.”
He then got around to the topic conservatives like to pivot to anytime someone brings up police brutality, so-called “black-on-black crime”.
“It’s not just police killing black people it’s… people make mistakes. People make mistakes often…
In my community, it’s people that’s killing people… I just don’t want to fingerpoint and hold this specific entity up to a standard that we’re all not living up to.”
If this sounds like a bunch of regurgitated Fox ‘News’ talking points, it’s because that is exactly what it is. As revealed in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Frank Luntz is coaching Newton on what to say in response to questions about race and police brutality. Luntz has made a career out of conducting focus groups with potential voters, using them to test key phrases and buzzwords coined by conservatives to appeal to the most primal instincts of the American voter, preying on resentment and ignorance for the purpose of electing Republican politicians to office. Among the many different causes he’s championed during his political career are the elections of Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush, ensuring the public remains severely misinformed about the scientific evidence behind global warming, and creating justifying narratives to support Israel’s colonization of Palestine. Now he can add making Cam Newton palatable to white audiences to his long résumé. There’s a supreme irony in hiring Luntz, an archconservative who rails against the so-called “political correctness” of the left, for the purpose of coaching a Black football quarterback to say things that are politically correct and pleasing to white audiences. It appears “political correctness” is only a bad thing when somebody wishes to say something racist and bigoted without being called out on it.
Thanks to Luntz and the Carolina Panthers’ owner’s apparent desire to make Newton into the anti-Kaepernick, Cam Newton went from someone who spoke frankly about racist double standards in sports to someone who effectively discourages discussions of police brutality by changing the subject to one of black scrutiny. Robert Littal, in his Black Sports Online column, lamented the fact that “Newton has allowed that to happen considering how black people have vigorously fought for him when others just thought he was a thug and a n****r for dancing.”