There’s this secret thing about sports that a lot of people tend to forget — on the face, they mean nothing. It didn’t really matter that the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s. It didn’t really matter that the Warriors beat the Cleveland LeBrons last June. President Obama still woke up and had to run the free world. And it won’t matter in two weeks, when the Panthers crush the Broncos and Cam Newton becomes the third African-American quarterback to be crowned champion of a league that is 68 percent black.
But wait, actually it will matter.
Sports are a circus that lull people to sleep. Fans think they’re getting away from the entanglement of politics when they tune in, but really they’re watching a microcosm of the very same problems they came to get away from. What’s supposed to be just a game is often riddled with drugs, domestic violence and money laundering. In the same way that the arts tangle with social issues, sports can also become a niche for activism.
Over the next couple weeks, there will be a number of storylines that develop about this game. Denver’s front seven against Carolina’s power run game. Carolina’s secondary against a diluted Denver passing attack. The Old vs. The New. The Sheriff vs. Superman.
But anyone who has taken their blinders off this season has realized that there is more to this game than just the fact that Cam Newton has been the best quarterback in the NFL this year and is going to win the MVP. He’ll be one of the most disliked MVPs ever. White quarterbacks as good as Cam — a short list — just don’t get the petty criticism that he gets. He dances too much. But aren’t athletes supposed to have fun? He’s a diva. Athletes are supposed to have an ego, or else they’ll get swallowed alive, right? He’s not a leader. But he’s won a championship at every level he’s ever played at, and he’s sniffing one at the highest of those levels.
Larry Bird was just as cocky as Newton. He promised to win the three-point shootout on All-Star Weekend in advance, then shot it with a warm-up jacket on. Newton would have gotten killed for that. “Broadway” Joe Namath guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III against the heavily favored Colts. Newton would have gotten killed for that also. In a press conference earlier this week, Newton alluded to the reason he takes more criticism than any other successful quarterback in the league.
“I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to,” Newton said.
There’s more to this football thing than just crushing each other and getting in the endzone. So, for the last time in the 2015-2016 NFL season, dab on ‘em Cam.
Three Places I Wish I Was a Fly on the Wall in the Last Week
Each week, as part of the installments of this weekly column, there’ll be a list that accompanies the article. It might have nothing to do with the above content, or it might go along with it. Either way, it’s to add a little humor to what might be heavier content, because sports are supposed to be fun.
1. The restaurant with Blake Griffin and Matias Testi: It’s a small miracle that no footage of this has emerged yet. There’s so many things I want to know. What started the fight? Why did Griffin follow Testi out of the restaurant? What really expensive meal did he leave behind that I could have taken?
2. This Tunnel:
No explanation needed.
3. LeBron’s house after he heard David Blatt got fired: One of the biggest mysteries in professional sports is the locker room environment. Fans never quite get a sense of the dynamic between a coach and his players. They’re adults. They’re at the peaks of their professions. There’s bound to be insubordination and conflict. I’d love to sit down and listen to LeBron and his crew roast David Blatt.
LeBron: “Hey guys, remember that time Blatt tried to sub the starters back in when we were up 30?”
Sometimes I wonder where they find these coaches.
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