Ex-NFL star Warren Moon has claimed that QB prospect Cam Newton is being unfairly criticized in the media because Newton is black.
Moon, who also is black, works as an adviser to Newton as he prepares for the NFL draft at the end of April. After 17 seasons as an NFL quarterback, starting at a time when the position was almost exclusively white, Moon has earned the right to broach the subject. His opinion shouldn't be dismissed in a knee-jerk fashion.
It is, however, open to fair debate, especially since NFL draft coverage has hardly been kind to anyone, particularly white quarterbacks such as Tim Tebow(notes), Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Clausen(notes).
Even more, how does bringing race into the Cam Newton debate help Cam Newton? Isn't Moon's job to make Newton's transition easier?
Race is a sensitive and complicated matter to discuss, especially on a national scale through the instant-feedback modern media. A 21-year-old QB trying to show teams he can move past numerous off-field dramas doesn't appear to be the ideal vehicle. Moon may be ready for the argument. Is his client?
"A lot of the criticism he's receiving is unfortunate and racially based," Moon told Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com.
"I thought we were all past this. I don't see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He's being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we're not.
"Of course there is racism in every walk of society. We've made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there. I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it. I think the way Cam is being treated shows we're not."
Draft prospects are routinely criticized, although few have been lit up the way Newton was this week by Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, who called him "fake", "immature" and lacking "accountability, focus and trustworthiness."
That story apparently sent Moon off.
"When I played I fought some of this," Moon said. "Guys like myself and Randall Cunningham, we were playing for a bigger calling. We were playing for guys like Cam and others. It's disappointing to see some of this stuff still exists."
While honest discussions of race should be welcomed in society, getting Cam Newton drafted isn't about society – it's about business. Navigating the waters of the pre-draft process, where millions of dollars are literally at stake, requires a plan. That's one reason Moon was brought in. He seemed like a perfect adviser for Newton.
Instead he put his guy in the middle of the fire. Debating racial bias is a delicate task; the third-rail of America. Why make Newton have to answer questions about it, where one misspoke word can stick with him forever?
He's already dealing with myriad controversies. The Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn was engulfed in a major scandal when reports surfaced that his father had tried to garner an $180,000 payment for him to play at Mississippi State. He previously had his tenure at Florida end due to a stolen laptop and allegations of academic fraud. He was dubbed, by some, as arrogant in February after declaring he saw himself as not just a football player but an "entertainer-slash-icon."
Nawrocki, who denies race was a factor in his evaluation of Newton, may or may not have been too tough on Newton. Either way Pro Football Weekly isn't "60 Minutes." Moon brought more attention to the scouting report than it normally would've gotten.
Then there is this: Moon's opinion is too easy for critics to dismiss. Moon may indeed be right about race factoring in certain critiques of Newton. The problem is quarterbacks of all color tend to get treated unfairly.
Actually, Newton's performance in front of the media at the NFL scouting combine in February was well-received. Not so lucky was Arkansas' Mallett, who is white. He was savaged by the media and continues to deal with non-sourced rumors about his off-field life.
Then there's the football stuff.
"The thing that makes me laugh is the question of can [Newton] come out of the spread offense?" Moon said. "Can he run a pro offense? Colt McCoy(notes) came out of the spread offense and very few people raised that issue about him. So did Sam Bradford(notes). Same thing. Very few questions asking if Bradford could run a pro offense. Some of these questions about Cam are more about his intellect. It's blatant racism, some of it."
Well, McCoy, a white quarterback out of Texas, was picked in the third round last year, so the draft hardly went perfect for him. Newton, meanwhile, is projected in the top half of the first round.
Then there is last year's high-profile target – Tebow. Like Newton, Tebow was questioned not just on his ability to adapt out of the spread offense. Critics also wondered if his conservative Christian views could work in a NFL locker room.
With Newton, Moon sees race as a factor. Others certainly won't. There will be a backlash. There will be more questions. There will be controversy. There is little doubt Moon knew what he was starting. At age 54, he is more than capable of engaging in this debate and fighting his own fight.
But is Cam Newton? Because he better be now.
- Warren Moon