Cam Newton is the MVP leader 11 weeks into the NFL season, even though he doesn’t rank in the Top 5 in any statistical category. He’s 29th in completion percentage, 11th in yards per attempt, and 15th in QB rating. In ESPN’s “Total QBR,” Newton is 13th in the NFL behind the likes of Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Marcus Mariota.
But you know how the MVP, the Heisman, and most major awards work now – let’s take the best player from the best team and give it to him. The Panthers are 11-0 and on the verge of locking up the #1 seed in the NFC.
(There’s a strong argument for Carolina cornerback Josh Norman as the MVP, but it’ll never happen because the media always gives the award to a QB or RB. That’s been the case for the last 28 years. Norman’s transformative play has turned that defense from very good the last few years to elite this season. Norman is the best cornerback in the NFL, ranked 1st by Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers are allowing just 4.8 ypp, 2nd to the Broncos.)
Newton leads all QBs in rushing with 476 yards and seven touchdowns.
Here’s where it’ll get interesting when it’s time to vote: Will the media vote a black QB as the MVP? There have been many excellent black QBs in NFL history – Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb in recent years come to mind – but only one has shared the MVP: Steve McNair in 2003. He split the award with Peyton Manning.
Cunningham was the runner-up three times. In 1998 his Vikings were 15-1, but the award went to Terrell Davis, who rushed for 2,008 yards. In 1988, Cunningham finished 2nd to Boomer Esiason. There was some controversy in 1990 when he was the runner-up to Joe Montana.
McNabb was the runner-up in 2000 to Marshall Faulk.
Moon always put up monster stats, but the best he could do was 3rd in 1990.
The NFL media is predominantly white. (Need a laugh? Sports Illustrated’s “Twitter 100” lists 54 media members, and there are only three minorities. None of them are football writers/commenters.) Here are the media members from radio/tv/website/newspaper who voted on the MVP last year.
The football media loves traditional pocket passers, and has been very slow to come around on athletic quarterbacks. You’ll see coded words like “pure passers”; on a list such as this one, look at the words used to describe the black quarterbacks at 20-23.
(As recently as 12 years ago, McNabb and McNair talked about teams trying to get them to switch positions.)
From Jimmy the Greek to Al Campanis to Rush Limbaugh at ESPN, there are many examples of racial bias against black QBs. Some of that has thawed in recent years, but the rise and fall of Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick only fed the narrative: Running QBs can’t consistently succeed in the NFL. Russell Wilson is an outlier!
Here’s a 1988 New York Times column on the topic, with this snippet about Doug Williams, the first black QB to win a Super Bowl:
”After that game,” Williams said, ”Walter Payton’s mother came up to me and said she had started pulling for me in the stands.” Why? ”Obvious, isn’t it?”
The black man at the alien position, the position of leadership and authority and brains, the position that, according to the once prevalent thinking, only whites were supposed to be able to handle.
Warren Moon has brought up the “racial bias” against Newton in the past.
Here’s an interesting subplot: As the Seahawks surge – not behind the defense, but behind Russell Wilson’s arm – does Wilson steal some votes from Newton, only to watch 38-year old Tom Brady sneak in now that his Patriots are healthy, and steal the award?
The oldest MVP in NFL history was 37 – by both Rich Gannon and Peyton Manning – but the award for Brady would further help legitimize his case as the greatest QB in NFL history.
At the expense of the guy who should win the MVP, Cam Newton.