Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, former roommates and two of the NFL’s most prominent Black quarterbacks, each appear to have undergone shifts in their public views of American racism prior to this year’s season. Kap, as we well know, transitioned from near-silence on race to embodying the quiet-but-powerful new standard for athletic protest against police brutality—and inspiring solidarity across ages, genders and sports.
Conversely, Newton—who captivated many (Colorlines included) with his touchdown dances and unapologetic Blackness—entered this season trying to downplay his previous comments on race and the ongoing racist treatment he faces from audiences. Newton actively deflected questions about racism, saying America was “beyond that” in his GQ cover story last month. He then addressed Kap’s protest via ESPN in vague, non-committal language about mutual respect.
Perhaps their respective stances have to do with their relative stability: Newton, the league MVP and starting QB in a notoriously regressive state’s lone NFL franchise, has more to lose than Kap, who lost his starting position ahead of this season. Maybe, as the GQ piece speculated, Newton is sick of ”explaining away the cruel and insinuating things that other people say about him.” Perhaps, as Sports Illustrated reported, he’s working with PR consultant and Republican pollster Frank Luntz to be better liked by people (read: racists) in his audience.
Whatever the reason, when the picture above surfaced over the weekend, many social media users and sports commentators had a field day (sports pun intended) figuring out what the two QBs were saying. The captions that made this pic viral ranged from light-hearted to poignantly comical to downright nasty:
Caption this. pic.twitter.com/gdgN6CJNy5
— Kicks Deals (@KicksDeals) September 18, 2016
Cam: “Why didn’t you stand up for the flag?”
Kaepernick: “Why didn’t you dive for the ball” pic.twitter.com/er3vhnn0d1
— Briantelevision1 (@BrianHudson718) September 18, 2016
“Honestly I prefer Taylor Swift to Beyoncé. She’s the real queen of pop.” pic.twitter.com/8oJwNyUyQr
— Rod (@rodimusprime) September 18, 2016
Kaep: “What’s up, Cam? U joining my protest or nah?”
Cam: “Don’t look me in the eye. I don’t talk to bench players” pic.twitter.com/ogOQnEpA7K
— BLACK ADAM SCHEFTER (@B1ackSchefter) September 19, 2016
cam newton: all lives ma–
colin kaepernick: boy if you don’t get pic.twitter.com/3i1P2hRpJg
— hobbes. (@pettyflocko) September 19, 2016
While this tweet didn’t use the aforementioned picture, it did capture an attitude many hold towards Newton after he made his comments to ESPN and GQ:
cam newton coming across as a uncle tom by what his opinion of the Colin Kaepernick not standing for anthem pic.twitter.com/foBDPPtqzV
— Secret _Destroyer (@x16kunt) September 20, 2016
Commentators also speculated on the exchange. On Fox News’ “Speak For Yourself,” infamous journalist Jason Whitlock opined that Newton perhaps thought Kap’s protest threatened players’ ability to comfortably make money (especially money that could be used for philanthropy) while former player Shannon Sharpe suspected Kap could have been both jealous of Newton’s skill and unhappy with Newton’s comments:
— Speak For Yourself (@SFY) September 19, 2016
What do you think went down? Let us know in the comments.