In an interview with ESPN The Magazine, Newton was asked about the criticism he faced before being drafted first overall by the Panthers. At the time, Warren Moon, who advised Newton leading up to the draft, said that he felt that the critiques of Newton that called him phony or questioned his smile were “racially based.”
Newton doesn’t see it that way, although his answer certainly touches on the issue of race when it comes to quarterback evaluations.
“But I can’t sit up here and look at it like, oh man, my critics are racist,” Newton says. “I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up? I’m trying to be a trailblazer. If Baylor’s Robert Griffin decides to come out, I want people to say ‘He can be the next Cam Newton’ instead of ‘He’s gonna be the next JaMarcus Russell.”
Griffin and Newton are both quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy, but assessing Griffin simply on whether or not he will be the next Newton or Russell can only happen if you fail to look beyond the color of their skin. Griffin is much smaller than either of those quarterbacks and plays the game in a very different way, making it, at best, an inexact comparison when leading up to the draft. This happens all the time in sports, not just football, and it’s the laziest kind of evaluation to make because it ignores the things that make each player unique.
It will probably happen, but anyone doing it will be just as misguided as those who thought Russell and Young gave some sort of blueprint to how Newton would do at the NFL level. Each player brings his own baggage — good and bad — and each player deserves to be judged on their own merits as opposed to the experiences of others who have nothing to do with them.
The criticisms hurled at Newton’s character weren’t much different than those faced by Jimmy Clausen or Ryan Mallett when they were being assessed leading up to draft day. Tim Tebow faced many of the same questions about the transition he would be able to make from college to the NFL. Race may have fueled some people’s dislike of Newton, but the scrutiny is the same for every big quarterback prospect to come down the pike.