Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon has been advising former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as he prepares to enter the NFL. And Moon believes that much of the intense scrutiny and criticism that Newton has experienced arises from racism.
Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com spoke with Moon about Newton. Freeman says that Moon was “extremely angry” regarding the manner in which Newton is being treated.
“A lot of the criticism he’s receiving is unfortunate and racially based,” Moon told Freeman. “I thought we were all past this. I don’t see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He’s being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we’re not.
“Of course there is racism in every walk of society. We’ve made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there. I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it. I think the way Cam is being treated shows we’re not. . . .
“The thing that makes me laugh is the question of can [Newton] come out of the spread offense? Can he run a pro offense? Colt McCoy came out of the spread offense and very few people raised that issue about him. So did Sam Bradford. Same thing. Very few questions asking if Bradford could run a pro offense. Some of these questions about Cam are more about his intellect. It’s blatant racism, some of it.”
We’re not prepared to go quite that far, in large part because we vividly recall the criticism that was heaped last year upon the ultimate spread-offense, one-read-and-then-run-the-ball quarterback, Tim Tebow. Even after a year of NFL seasoning, the Denver Broncos hardly seem sold on Tebow’s ability to be a traditional NFL quarterback.
Freeman explains that Moon was especially upset about the perception that Newton is a phony.
“You can’t be fake and win a national championship,” Moon said. “The players will see through it. He’s won at every level. He took that Auburn team to the national title and that team wasn’t as talented as some other teams in the SEC.
“Just turn on the film and watch what he does on game day. Then if you have concerns just spend time with him. Go around the kid himself. Spend as much time as you need around him. You can only fake so much.”
But the perception of phoniness knows no racial boundaries. Last year, Tebow became one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, with plenty of people thinking that Tebow’s decision to wrap himself in religious and goodness is more calculated and forced than natural and genuine. And who can forget the relentless criticism of Jimmy Clausen, who was perceived as a bad teammate with a sense of entitlement — and who slid to the middle of round two in part because of it?
Newton enters the NFL amid many questions and concerns. He allegedly stole a laptop while playing at Florida. He has been caught up in a pay-to-play scandal that, with tonight’s HBO report regarding other far less accomplished players at Auburn getting paid, will likely inch back toward the front burner. Newton has dubbed himself “an entertainer and an icon.” Moon himself has admitted that Newton at times puts “the cart before the horse” when talking about himself.
Also, Newton struggled at the Scouting Combine, and his Pro Day workout was a step below the T-shirt-and-shorts grand slam that quarterback Pro Days so often become. While Newton won the Heisman and a national title, he didn’t have the kind of clearly dominant performance on a huge stage that propelled other quarterbacks to the top of the draft.
All that said, Newton surely will be drafted earlier than Tebow or Clausen were picked, and well before white quarterbacks like Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet, who has absorbed plenty of criticism this year, too, based on unsubstantiated rumors of drug use. Indeed, Newton still could be the first quarterback — and the first player — taken in the draft.
That said, are some of the people criticizing and/or rooting against Newton motivated by race? Undoubtedly. On balance, however, Newton finds himself in the unenviable position of being a high-profile player at a high-profile position that invites a high level of scrutiny in the months preceding the draft. Sure, Blaine Gabbert has received far less poking and prodding — but that’s because his college career was far more muted and unremarkable. Newton is living the reality of life under an electron microscope, the same device that has hovered over Tebow and Clausen and that will be used to study every big-name, well-known rookie quarterback, for as long as there are big-name, well-known rookie quarterbacks.