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Football Player Criticized for Dancing While Black

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) answers questions during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in San Jose, Calif.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) answers questions during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in San Jose, Calif.
Carolina Quarterback in Spotlight at Super Bowl
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American football is a game of great drama and theater.

On Sunday, the championship game will decide who is the best, and who is second best. The game will include music, noisemakers, confetti, flashing lights and lots of action.

So it may not seem out of place when football players express their enthusiasm after scoring points, called a touchdown. But lots of pre-game talk has been focused on a player named Cam Newton and how he celebrates his big plays.

Newton is energetic about scoring a touchdown or throwing the ball successfully to another player who then scores.

That happened 45 times this season for the Carolina Panthers, so Newton celebrates a lot.

He pumps his fist.

He waves to the crowd.

He mimics what the comic book character Clark Kent does when he is about to turn into Superman. He puts his hands to his chest and pretends to pull back his football uniform, revealing his “super hero” costume underneath.

After a touchdown, he always gets the ball and gives it to a fan of his team, the Panthers.

Some people think he really is super. He is big, strong, fast and handsome, after all. His touchdown celebrations often include a dance called “The Dab,” which is popular among young African-Americans.

Newton is credited with making the move popular.

“The Dab” has caused as much controversy as the swaying hips of rock and roll star Elvis Presley when he started his career.

In a game against Tennessee earlier this season, Newton scored a touchdown and broke into his “Dab” dance. The Tennessee players were not happy with him.

They ran up to him as if to challenge him to a fight.

But Newton kept dancing.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is often criticized for his touchdown celebrations.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is often criticized for his touchdown celebrations.

That prompted a Tennessee fan to write a letter to Newton that she also sent to a newspaper in North Carolina.

She wrote: “We had a close-up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter. The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans players and fans. We saw it all.”

Some sports commentators started talking about the way Newton celebrates.

Some say he should act like a touchdown is no big deal.

Others say he should be himself and celebrate if he wants to.

The debate is a reminder of what happened leading up to the Super Bowl in 1989 when Elbert “Ickey” Woods of the Cincinnati Bengals was doing a dance called “the Ickey shuffle.”

Woods was a good player. But injuries shortened his career. He is best known for his dance. He did a version of the dance in a recent commercial for an insurance company.

Newton is such a good player that will be remembered for more than just a debate over touchdown celebrations.

Commentators think some white people are offended by Newton’s celebrations because he is African-American. After all, white athletes celebrate their touchdowns just as much but people are not criticizing them.

In a USA Today column, Nancy Armour writes: “If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, the criticism of Newton comes from somewhere ugly and mean, based more on prejudice than a wish for proper decorum.”

Two white players known for celebrating their touchdowns in recent seasons are Aaron Rodgers and Tim Tebow. Rodgers is the star quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Tebow was a star player in college and played in the NFL for a short time.

Rodgers does a move where he thrusts his hips and pretends to put a “championship belt,” like the ones they award in professional boxing, around his waist. When Tebow played, he would drop to one knee and pray to God after scoring a touchdown.

Both of the players have a lot of fans. Rodgers even does commercials for an insurance company that uses his celebratory move as a joke.

No one really complains about their celebrations. In fact, Tebow’s religious expression makes him even more appealing to some fans. When Tebow played, he wore items that referenced Bible verses.

In her article about Newton, Armour talked with a professor who studied the way penalties were called on African-American football players during the 2010 season.

He said one reason people are offended by these celebrations is that “(minorities) are expected to do their jobs quietly, without making a fuss.”

Newton says he will keep dancing, no matter what people say.

In a conversation with reporters earlier this week, Newton proposed a solution for those who are offended by his celebrations:

“I guess you're going to have to get used to it, because I don't plan on changing.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

What do you think of Cam Newton’s touchdown celebration? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _______________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

arrogant – adj. having or showing the insulting attitude of people who believe that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people

brutally honest – adv. cruel or extreme honesty

decorum – n. correct or proper behavior that shows respect and good manners

fuss – n. activity or excitement that is unusual and may be unwanted

handsome – adj. pleasing to look at

fist – n. the hand with its fingers bent down into the palm

mimic – v. to copy someone’s behavior

costume – n. clothes worn by someone who is trying to look like a different person or thing

quarterback – n. the player in a football game who handles the ball and is in charge of the offense

touchdown – n. one way to score in a football game – worth six points

prejudice – n. an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc.

taunting – v. to say or do something in order to make that person angry

thrust – v. to push something with force