November 21, 2013

So the debate in Black America is on, again: RGIII or Cam …

In barbershops from here to there, the question is asked, debated and argued: who’s the up-and-coming can’t-miss star or soon-to-be-National Football League star, Robert Griffin III of The Washington Franchise (I'm not using the nickname) or the Carolina Panther’s Cam Newton?

Wow, what a difference a few weeks make.

Last season, RGIII was the second coming … of … well, what Cam had been the year before – the Anointed One, The Greatest, the Future of Professional Football. Ask a brother today, and he/d say, RGII is … well, he’s a’right, but he ain’t all that.

Mind you, that’s the attitude most of Black America had about Cam last year as he struggled playing for a mediocre NFL franchise in a second-tier media market that got little national exposure. But a couple of years ago? Well, that was when Cam, a first-round draft pick from Auburn with amazing skills and a NCAA championship under his belt, was the latest Anointed One, The Greatest, the Future of Football.

I’m not hating on the haters, I’m just saying. Because the truth is, I’m not surprised. We like our winners doing one thing: winning.

 Last year, it was RGIII. This year, it’s Cam. And so it goes. Of course, the conversation could focus on all the things that tie into success: how teammates are performing, is the team running plays that make best use of its strengths while exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition, and, of course, have they been just plain lucky? But, bump that, the real question is, who’s the better quarterback?

The conversation highlights one of the problems of our society: we want – no, we need – instantaneous gratification. History will tell us which was really the better quarterback, and factors within and beyond each man’s control will influence that determination -- the type of line he played behind, the strength of his team’s defense, the strength of his division, injuries to himself and teammates. But we don’t want to wait for history to decide.

So we make the decision today, if not yesterday, if not the day he was drafted. I have no problem with it for conversation, but too many people don’t just see it as conversation. Some of the same people who are arguing how horrible RGIII is now will, if he comes back strong next year, take to talking about how wonderful he is. Same guy, and yet with success everything about him will have changed. Go figure.

I guess some people believe they can make judgments without bothering to gathering relevant data. But, like I said, I’m not hating. Some people’s knees just jerk that way.

Which brings up the next issue: the recent victory by the Panthers over the New England Patriots has opened up a whole different conversation over who is better, Cam or the Patriot’s quarterback, Tom Brady.
Actually, it may not be so much a conversation as a celebration.

Some brothers and sisters are loving on Cam because HE beat the Patriots, and specifically Brady.

Where’s that coming from? I doubt Carolina has that big a national following, and Cam hasn’t had a chance to establish himself as a came that should be mentioned with the premiere quarterbacks.

Trust me, I understand why the conversation is so important.

We love our sports. But it’s also deeper than that. It is what so much of life is about in America: race. Black people don’t just want Cam or RGIII to do well, they have to do well. They are we. Their place at the table is our place at the table; and the fact that they get to eat means we all get to eat.

But before you take it too literally, this isn’t about food; and before you take it too figuratively this isn’t about money; this is about acceptance. Finally.

You see, we’ve been here before.

Think about Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham, Air McNair, Daunte Culpeper, Michael Vick, or Vince Young. All of them NFL starters, all of them successful enough, but for some reason all dismissed as not quite good enough, no matter what their success. Heck, even Warren Moon, maybe the patron saint of the black quarterback, didn’t get an invite to the NFL until he had toiled for years in the Canadian Football League.

It says something about the psyche of black America that 26 years after Doug Williams outgunned John Elway in Super Bowl XXII there is still this undercurrent, this lack of acceptance of black quarterbacks in the NFL. So the fact that Cam Newton outgunned Brady … well, that’s a moment that can’t be denied or taken away. But it can be celebrated; so we do. 

You see, to the masses Cam represents every black quarterback who has been in or is in the NFL.

While Brady is the golden boy – the standard for success and the definition of what a quarterback looks like – Cam is what black quarterbacks end up being: a question mark from the day he arrives. Coaches can’t seem to figure out what to do with them. Seems these guys are always drafted with hopes of being the franchise, but within a few years it always seems like the decision is made to go in another, more conventional direction, and the running black quarterback ends up getting replaced with the drop-back passer who happens to be white.

The league has just never figured out what to do with its Next Big Thing, not the running quarterbacks Randall Cunningham, or Kordell Stewart, or Newton or Griffin. It always happens the same way: these players are drafted with fanfare and high expectations, but before they can even arrive there are questions about the accuracy of their passing and talk that they will have to become a pocket passer or perish.

Part of the failure, I chalk up to a lack of innovation and commitment to building a team around these players particular set of skills (I’ve always wanted to say that;) It can certainly be said the same thing happened to Tim Tebow, with the exception that he really was/is an inaccurate passer – maybe more so than anyone else I’ve mentioned. I will be curious to see the tone of the conversation and what happens, however, when Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel comes into the league.

At best, even the more traditional black quarterbacks have always been the stepchild of the league. Let’s look at, say, Jason Campbell.

Campbell had a different coordinator each of his first six years in the league. By comparison, for that same time period, Peyton Manning had one. ONE offensive coordinator. That wasn’t an accident. It was intentional. And it goes back to my favorite saying: some people are set up to succeed and other people are set up to fail.

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