Stephen A. Smith is uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why.
The Charlotte Observer recently published an editorial cartoon depicting Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton– who has recently been criticized for pouting on the sidelines— wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt. The cartoon plays off of Newton’s signature celebration, where he mimes Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman “S.” The cartoon doesn’t strike me as particularly funny, but I (at least think I) get the point. It’s making fun of Newton for being a bit of a baby, and implying that if you present yourself as a team leading “Superman” when things are going well, you should show some composure when things are going poorly.
Stephen A. Smith seems even more emotional than usual, and certainly more serious. He repeatedly states that the cartoon made him “uncomfortable,” and implies that there is some element of racism here. He also makes a heartfelt statement asserting that only African Americans are qualified to determine if something is racist towards an African American, and that white people don’t get to tell black people how to feel.
I’m white, and I won’t tell Smith– or anyone else– how to feel. But I have to admit, I really don’t understand the basis for his discomfort here.
It’s possible that I’m missing something (let me know in the comments). There are no real stereotypes in play here to my knowledge. NFL Quarterbacks are mercilessly criticized all the time. Jay Cutler is consistently mocked for being the most disinterested-looking athlete ever. Tom Brady is deemed a pretty boy. The list goes on.
I hesitate to draw any sweeping conclusions from Smith’s reaction, but I will say that I think it embodies a potentially dangerous mindset. Most NFL fans see Cam Newton as a Quarterback. Smith clearly sees him as a Black Quarterback. Newton’s race is important to who he is as an individual, and I’m in no way advocating for colorblindness or silence on issues of race in sports. But this eagerness to jump to racial controversy where it doesn’t appear at all obvious seems unhealthy. Newton, notwithstanding cartoons to the contrary, is a tough guy. He can take criticism just like any white QB. Smith is welcome to feel uncomfortable if he likes, but he’s not helping anyone by saying so.