As we were all mesmerized by the Alpha Kappa Alpha-inspired outfit Cam Newton wore Sunday, I have to admit that I missed the delicious irony of Newton talking about feeling unprotected on the football field.
My fraternity brother Bryan Kelly noted that as Newton talked about his unfair treatment, and how he felt that he wasn’t "having fun,” and that "he felt unsafe," someone should have yelled, “All quarterbacks matter!” And oh, how brilliant that would have been.
You see, when asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Newton made the decision to take the advice of Republican pollster, and Orwellian wordsmith, Frank Luntz, in crafting an All Lives Matter-style response.
“How does one-eighth of an inch—something so small—be the difference in such a big [subject]? And that’s the thickness of our skin: one-eighth of an inch. And under that, we’re all the same color. You know? And that’s the big picture.”
And with that, Newton decided that the Black Lives Matter movement, which uses social action to demand fairness and justice around police brutality, especially when it comes to black and brown communities, was part of the small picture. And since our skin-color differences are so small, by his reasoning, there’s no need to speak specifically about issues in black and brown communities.
All Lives Matter to the tee.
And yet, when it came to him, he suddenly wanted people to recognize that he was being treated unfairly and that Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, should hear his protests for protection.
Oh, the hypocrisy.
Black and brown people don’t feel like they’re having fun when a 12-year-old Tamir Rice can be murdered in a public park as he’s playing with a toy gun within seconds of encountering the police. Black and brown people don’t feel safe when they’re stopped by the police for simple traffic infractions and then get their faces blown off like Philando Castile. Or die in police custody like Sandra Bland. Or die with their hands up like Mike Brown. Or even when his fellow quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat down in order to stand up for justice.
And yet Newton decided to blow off Black Lives Matter as a strategic move to not offend those who pay his paycheck, the white fans, and those who advise him. Now, after nearly two years of not receiving a roughing-the-passer call, Newton wants us to look at the systemic maltreatment he’s received and rally around him in the name of justice, all because he feels vulnerable in his workspace.
Maybe Newton should call upon his All Lives Matter friends to see if they’re willing to protect him. I have a feeling that they’re more interested in protecting Tom Brady, the most protected QB in the NFL when it comes to roughing-the-passer calls, than Newton. But then again, since the only thing separating Brady and Newton is the one-eighth-inch fabric that comprises their respective uniforms, excuse me for thinking the NFL will look at the problem and think, “You’re all the same under the uniform, so following Cam’s logic, there’s no need to act specifically for his problem.”
And that would serve Newton right. You wanted All Lives Matter, and now you’ve got All Lives Matter. My suggestion to Newton? Start ducking, running faster or, as your All Lives Matter allies would say, “How about you becoming a better quarterback first, before asking the referees to protect you?”
Maybe then you’ll recognize that black lives, including black quarterbacks, matter.
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.