Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn’t made himself an activist yet.
But he also respects the work being done by those who have been willing to put themselves out there for a cause, to their personal detriment.
After processing a weekend filled with players kneeling during the national anthem in response to criticism by President Donald Trump, Newton was moved by what he saw and where it came from.
“My hat goes off to the Colin Kaepernicks of the world,” Newton said, via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. “He’s made the ultimate sacrifice [as a player] and I respect that wholeheartedly. I can’t let a moment go by without shedding light to that: A person that does have the talent to play, a person that should be in this league, but I feel as if he’s not getting his just due because of his views.
“But that’s a legend, right there. For him to think outside of himself, to raise awareness of something that, this is 365 days removed from his first initial stand, and now here we are doing the same things. And now everybody is kind of understanding what his reasoning was, and I respect that.”
Some are, at least. And while Newton hasn’t always been the most eloquent spokesman for his own views — he clumsily declared racism a thing of the past while trying to steer himself out of controversy last year — it’s not as if he doesn’t have strong feelings. And those who would trip on his use of the words “ultimate sacrifice” to make their patriotic points are missing his as well.
He said Wednesday that while he understands his status and socioeconomic situation insulates him from much of the injustice in the world, he has seen it first hand growing up outside Atlanta.
“That doesn’t mean where I’m from, they don’t see it,” he said. “How I view things, it’s not the Cam you see [before you] today. I often remind people of where I’m from – I’m from Atlanta, Ga., by way of College Park. And it’s a lot of stereotyping, it’s a lot of cultural division, so to speak, in those areas.
“So the person that I am now, if I were to see a person of a different race, of course I’m going to get their best behavior. But when you go back to those sides of College Park, of East Point, Ben Hill, Bowen Homes. . . . A person growing up, walking down the street may not have the same cushion, so to speak, from a policeman. That’s what I mean.
“I feel like it’s my job, my duty, my fine print as a person that people do look up to and people love to critique, that I represent those people knowing that we haven’t been getting our just due. And I would want the people from the top to understand that as well as the bottom understand the top. It’s going to take us to come together and unify.”
While Newton’s call for unity falls in with the current trend toward finding a hashtag for a bigger problem, there’s a level of understanding in his recent remarks he hasn’t always communicated. And recognizing that Kaepernick has turned himself into a football version of Curt Flood (whose baseball career effectively ended when he challenged restrictive labor rules), is a significant step for Newton.