After a wave of peaceful demonstrations across the NFL over the weekend, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who did not participate in the protests, wanted to be sure people remember they began with a legend.
“My hat goes off to the Colin Kaepernicks of the world,” said Newton, referring to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who last year began kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games in protest of racial inequity and police violence against black people in America.
“He’s made the ultimate sacrifice (as a player) and I respect that wholeheartedly. I can’t let a moment go by without shedding light to that: A person that does have the talent to play, a person that should be in this league, but I feel as if he’s not getting his just due because of his views.
“But that’s a legend, right there. For him to think outside of himself, to raise awareness of something that, this is 365 days removed from his first initial stand, and now here we are doing the same things. And now everybody is kind of understanding what his reasoning was, and I respect that.”
Newton and the other team captains, along with veteran defensive end Julius Peppers, met with team owner Jerry Richardson on Tuesday to discuss social issues. Peppers, the only Panther to demonstrate on Sunday, stayed in the locker room until after the anthem.
The players also had a separate players-only discussion on Wednesday, before their normal team activities.
Earlier, the Observer reported that some players did not join Peppers or otherwise protest on Sunday for fear of backlash from Richardson, and that there was some frustration in the locker room because of that.
Newton said that before Sunday’s game he personally did not feel he had processed the issue, including the comments made last Friday by President Donald Trump, who said any “son of a bitch” who kneeled during the anthem should be “fired” by his team. Had he had the opportunity to think about it more, he said, he would likely have demonstrated as well.
Additionally, Newton said Richardson told players that if they did want to demonstrate in the weeks to come, they could do so.
Newton also added that with his status and situation, he doesn’t experience what he called last week “an epidemic” of racial injustice around the country.
“That doesn’t mean where I’m from, they don’t see it,” he said. “How I view things, it’s not the Cam you see (before you) today. I often remind people of where I’m from – I’m from Atlanta, Ga., by way of College Park. And it’s a lot of stereotyping, it’s a lot of cultural division, so to speak, in those areas.
“So the person that I am now, if I were to see a person of a different race, of course I’m going to get their best behavior. But when you go back to those sides of College Park, of East Point, Ben Hill, Bowen Homes. ... A person growing up, walking down the street may not have the same cushion, so to speak, from a policeman. That’s what I mean.
“I feel like it’s my job, my duty, my fine print as a person that people do look up to and people love to critique, that I represent those people knowing that we haven’t been getting our just due.
“And I would want the people from the top to understand that as well as the bottom understand the top. It’s going to take us to come together and unify.”