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Photo: CC, Mike Morbeck

Discomfort with black players and their celebrations brings racial issues in sport to light

To dance or not to dance? That is the debate raging over Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton.

After scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 15, Newton started celebrating by doing the “dab” dance.

A Titans defender confronted him, and in response he did it again. The dab is a small dance that originated in the last year in Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, and was popularized by the group Migos. Atlanta is a predominantly black city and is also Newton’s hometown.

Normally a player’s dance moves wouldn’t make headlines, but Newton’s celebration has the sporting world in an uproar. According to Deadspin, last week sports media figure Skip Bayless, a host of ESPN’s First Take, called the dance, “a little much for a franchise quarterback.”

You may ask why this is such a hot take—well first, he’s a quarterback, and second he’s a young black man.

The Charlotte Observer was at the forefront of the issue, where Jonathan Jones wrote a column on why Cam should continue to dance. In response, a Tennessee mom named Rosemary Plorin also wrote an open letter to the paper ripping the quarterback for his celebratory actions.

According to Plorin, the dance was inflammatory and was not reflective of a role model, as she claimed she had to redirect her daughter’s attention to the cheerleaders and the mascot during the dancing.

Here lies a problem—scantily clad women dancing and cheering and a person in a mascot costume are apparently better role models than a black man thriving in America.

Newton has had a few bumps along the road to success, but his tremendous amount of charity work in Charlotte, Atlanta, and across the country speak to his character.

Is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who twice dealt with sexual cases during his career a better role model than Cam? What about Aaron Rodgers? The Green Bay QB turned his famed championship belt touchdown celebration into sponsorship cheques doing ‘discount double-checks’ with State Farm.

It should be OK to dance though, because white players in NFL are allowed to show their emotion—just ask Tom Brady. He is seen screaming,  rallying his team and faces no opposition.

If you’re white, not showing emotions is OK too—Eli Manning has done that for over a decade and the media just said it was Eli being Eli.  However, when Newton did it in his early years his leadership was brought into question.

There’s not only a racial double standard when debating Cam Newton, but also a positional one. If any other player on the team had celebrated as Newton did in Tennessee, nobody would have blinked an eye.

Quarterbacks, however, are held to a different standard because they’re the leaders. It could also be a new school vs. old school debate but a lot of past great quarterbacks celebrated touchdowns vigorously.

However, Brady, Rodgers and every other quarterback in the NFL, also show more than a little emotion when celebrating and expecting your quarterback to be stoic and emotionless is antiquated.

In the end it will be hard for Cam Newton to appease the doubters, and there’s still a long ways to go to eliminate double standards within sport.

Just like he said: If you don’t want him to dance, don’t let him score. If your child asks you what he is doing while celebrating, tell them he’s doing exactly what he should be while playing football—having fun.