This thread is about how concepts of leadership are often actually misconceptions based on archaic methodologies of how we view language and communication as they relate to race. Bear with me here and let's jump in our DeLorean and floor it. When you get to 88mph the DeLorean is suddenly surrounded with swirly poo and the flux capacitor makes some noise and suddenly you're crashing through a barn in the year 2010. The 2010 you is sitting on a couch watching football. The Panthers suck absolute balls. Remember those days? We subsequently tanked and got the number one pick and faced a major decision on who to draft.
Ok you're caught up. For the last two and a half years – ever since Jimmy “checkdown god” Clausen started fouling up this offense – the Huddle has endured a constant spate of race-based posting. From the outset, leading up to draft, speculation about Cam’s viability as a good draft choice was based on his leadership ability, on his intangibles. This speculation has been widespread, and the first two years of his career have been plagued, on the internet side of things in particular, by deeper probing questions of long-term ability; that essential ability to be the glue that holds a team together. Physical questions relating to accuracy have been displaced by questions of articulation in interviews. Criticism of Cam’s ability to read defenses has switched to criticism of his demeanor on the sidelines. Racial potshots usually result (often rightfully so) and otherwise constructive and inquisitive threads devolve into trenchant sniping and the otherwise innocuous spread of archaic paradigms. Then people get banned and Kurb stays busy locking stupid threads.
Before we try to break this all down, let’s jump back in the DeLorean and zip to a different time real quick and adjust our methodologies. Reading and understanding this part of the thread is the difference between seeing a light coming on and typing TLDR LOLOLOL as your response to this thread.
Early 20th century German sociologist Franz Boas was heavily critical of examinations of other cultures because they were all viewed through the lens of aristocratic western European context; he argued that a people could only be understood within the context of their own cultural structure, as any questions and research points would be derived from an ultimately Euro-centric point of view. In layman’s terms, it is a bad idea to view, say, racial/cultural features from the perspective of a different culture entirely. You’ll never truly understand it.
Many modern sociologists would suggest this is where a great deal of misunderstanding and racial tension comes from. Take Ebonics, for example. How often have you heard the sentiment “why can’t they just speak proper English” expressed by white people who genuinely cannot understand the symbiosis between ethnicity and linguistic expression as a method of cultural identity? There’s a fundamental disconnect, and I believe it’s the key to understanding misconceptions on what “leadership” and “intangibles” mean in the context of the NFL.
Now that we’ve established this, let’s take a look at the NFL.
Caucasian players have, by and large, demographically dominated what are generally deemed as the intellectual roles.
- 86% of professional administrators are white
- 81% of general managers are white
- 78% of head coaches are white
- 31% of players on rosters are white
- 79% of quarterbacks on rosters are white or Hispanic
Intangibles are possibly the most overused and simultaneously ambiguous terms thrown around in draft circles, but it’s clear they – whatever they are perceived to be – are important. Here’s some quotes from draft experts and scouting personnel:
“Anyone can recognize talent. I'm most interested in identifying players who, along with that talent, possess the maturity, intelligence and work ethic to become NFL stars. If I was building a team from scratch with only the current draft class to choose from, this is the order in which I'd select them.”
“College coaches are under a lot of pressure to bring in good, solid recruits. Physical talents and skills are a huge part of the equation, but coaches are looking for the entire package in the young men they bring to campus. Often, the intangibles determine the true success of an individual and of a team.”
“Coaches and recruiters are looking for a QB that can be the face of the team and program . . . a true leader [gets] a group of people to work together as a group to achieve a goal.”
It’s pretty clear that “intangibles” tends to mostly lean towards qualities of leadership, and clearly the most essential quality of leadership in a football context is the ability to communicate with teammates. And then there’s the aspect of the putting-on of a good face for the franchise. That’s commutative too. Press conferences, interviews, post-game reports… how a leader comes across on camera is the only way the average viewer will know them (as the average fan never gets to truly know a player.)
And here we get to what I believe is the root of the problem.
For the most part, African-Americans communicate differently as a cultural entity than do Caucasians. Let me explain.
All one has to do is watch critiques of Cam Newton’s interviews versus RGIII’s. What do you hear the critics saying? “Not well-spoken at all,” they say about Newton. “Struggles to communicate. Inarticulate.” RGIII? “An extremely well-spoken young me, oozes intelligence and leadership.”
Leadership, it seems, is intrinsically tied to the ability to lead (at least in the minds of those in the football world.) Simply put, if you cannot (or do not) communicate in a linguistic style representative of the majority of individuals, it is considered a detrimental trait. As NYU’s Research Center for Leadership in Action so deftly states:
"… non-white leaders must be biculturally fluent – leading in ways that resonate with their own racial group or sense of self while also connecting with the dominant ways of working in a white-dominated environment.”
This dynamic tends to work itself out on the field well enough. I don’t know of any documented instances where a football player acted “too white” on the field to get along with his black teammates, or a teammate that acted “too black” to get along with his white teammates. (This is probably due to the fact that most NFL players have been in pads since middle school and have long ago integrated these leadership styles into their play.) For the general viewing public, however, and for NFL executives and front office personnel and scouts and everyone else who helps perceptions diffuse across the general public, it is very easy to miss these dynamics.
This post is getting exhaustively long at this point, so I’ll close with an example. Read the following transcripts and decide which one you instinctively consider to be the best communicative leader:
“Ow wee mayne.”
“That’s probably what you miss the most, being in the huddle, being with the guys. What I learned about myself is that I could handle that type of football adversity. It was difficult because of the scenario of the team struggling so bad, but I think the same year that probably the greatest physical gift that the Lord gave me was taken away from me, I was blessed with the greatest gift any of us could have with two beautiful children… I take that trade every day of the week.”
99% of us will take the second one (and perhaps rightfully so, because Brandon LaFell and Peyton Manning play two entirely different positions in football with different dynamics.) But most of us will take the second one because we consider it to be eloquent, articulate, communicative – the embodiment of leadership, manifested into a microphone.
Basically this is the long way of saying that what you hear criticism-wise about Cam Newton’s intangibles – as a speaker, as a leader, as a man – are based on what are essentially ethnocentric misunderstandings. Between the media’s innate tendency to sensationalize the trivial and the NFL establishment’s good-ol’-boy mentality representative of an ethnic majority that is set in the ways of cultural absolutism we have seen the Andrew Lucks and RGIIIs hailed for their articulation and charismatic prowess and the Cam Newtons disparaged for their lack of it.
What I am saying is on the field – in the trenches, on the sidelines, in the locker room where it really matters – none of things hold any weight with the players. None of these affect the team. None of these affect the ability to win a championship. So next time some braindead drooling cretin from New Orleans or Atlanta or portly body-odor-having loudmouth Pittsburgh transplant tells you Cam Newton is a terrible leader, teach them some of the anthropological principles you just learned and then punch them in the fuging throat.
Good night and remember to tip your bartender.