Cam Newton, the Super Bowl, & the Race Card
I’m not even close to unbiased as we approach the 2016 Super Bowl.
I graduated from the University of Florida. I’m a Gator fan. Gators do not like the Tennessee Volunteers. We struggle to acknowledge that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time goes by the name Peyton Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer. And yet as extensive as his resume is, let me give you my favorite Peyton Manning statistic: 0-4. That would be his record against my alma mater.
Now we come to Cam Newton. Before he was Superman; before he was a Carolina Panther; before he was Mr. Heisman; he was a Florida Gator. I know Auburn fans claim him as their own, but I remember the kindness and patience of Cam toward children in general, but mine in particular, when he walked off the practice field in Gainesville, Florida. I like Cam.
A couple days ago things heated up as Cam made a statement about being a black quarterback in the NFL. Depending on who you are in the world, his words either ring incredibly true or they carry the stench of the race card.
Depending on who you are the race card is a tool people of color use to blame whites for things that are not their fault or the race card is a term used to disempower minorities and invalidate all claims of racial injustice without respect to current evidence or historical fact.
As I clicked through the comments below Cam’s article, it was once again apparent just how polarized we are. “There’s no bias here,” many argued, “Why is Cam trying to make this about race?”
So I started thinking about my bias.
Growing up in the Tampa Bay area helped me to never get emotionally invested in a football team, as the Bucs found a way to perennially disappoint. But my fan-soul was awakened as I stepped foot on the campus of the University of Florida. Little did I know that I was being immersed into an entirely new culture. Next thing you know, I’m looking at the football world through an entirely different set of lenses. (Orange and blue to be exact.) I didn’t really choose for it to happen; but my days of unbiased participation in the world of football were over.
And that’s why, Peyton, if you’re reading this, I respect your talent, but I want you to lose in a very big way. Cam, if you’re reading this, I hereby commission you to take this Volunteer down one last time. 0-5.
Back to the race card.
When I hear all these people claiming that they possess no racial bias, I find myself wondering, exactly what culture did you grow up in? Do you really believe that you live in a racially-neutral society? Or, if you recognize the inequities, do you really believe that your soul is somehow immune to the effects? “Stop trying to make something out of nothing,” people are telling Cam. But is it possible, that just as subconsciously as I became a Gator-partial man, that each of us slowly develops into adulthood with all sorts of biases of which we are surely unaware. It’s the air we breathe.
I guess I’m pleading with us to be humble enough to admit we are products of the environment in which we were raised. I want us to be courageous enough to say this publicly: Everything is not ok. And for me to bring up the New Jim Crow of our prison system or for Cam to bring up his experience as a black quarterback is not the problem. The solution to brokenness is never denial; but it almost always starts with humility.
The fact of the matter is, I’m a biased man. I prejudge. I hold on to my privilege. And it’s not just football. It’s my ethnicity. My gender. My nationality. The fact of the matter is we are divided. As awkward as it is to spend time with a dysfunctional family that pretends that nothing is wrong is as awkward as it can be in churches when Ferguson or Baltimore, Maryland or Cam Newton are in the news.
Which is why one of the greatest words to proceed from a human tongue is this one: reconciliation.
Which is why I can’t wait to see what happens in our partnership with Dr. John Perkins, a man who has given his life (and been beaten within an inch of his last breath) for Jesus, justice, and reconciliation.
My hope is that the body of Christ will be the hope of our nation in achieving reconciliation that comes from truth, humility and justice. And I want to be a part of the solution. Because division is not just an ethnic thing; it’s a human thing as old as the Garden where our first parents broke relationship with God. I know Someone who knows exactly what to do with division.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV)