By Roscoe Nance
A man gets tired of what’s not right, and it’s not right that Howard University quarterback Caylin Newton is listed on the 2019 STATS FCS preseason All-American third team as ‘athlete.’
Granted, Newton is an immensely talented athlete. But he is a quarterback. End of story.
That’s the only position he has played in his two years as the Bison’s starter, and he has played it at a high level. He was the MEAC 2017 Rookie of the Year as a freshman, its Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 and among the FCS statistical leaders in a number of categories as sophomore, and he’s the preseason pick to win that award again this season. He was also a finalist for the 2019 Black College Football Hall of Fame Deacon Jones Award that goes to the top player among HBCUs.
Newton has never returned punts or kickoffs for Howard, played defense or wide receiver or done any of the things usually associated with the “athlete’’ designation. . All he has done during his college career is the things that quarterbacks are called on to do – run the ball, pass the ball, lead his team and win games.
Newton did play in the defensive backfield in high school.Mike London, who coached Newton the previous two seasons before moving on to William & Mary, considered playing him on defense in order to have the Bison’s best players on the field. But London never made the change.
By way of contrast, Shane Simpson of Towson, Troy Andersen of Montana State and Kentel Williams of Austin Peay, three others designated as “athletes’’ on the STATS preseason team, each plays a variety of roles for his team.
Simpson, a senior running back and a first team STATS pick, was second in the FCS in 2018 with 171.5 all-purpose yards (711 rushing, 887 on kickoff returns, 104 on punt returns and 356 receiving for a total 2,058) in 2017, and he was the CAA Special Teams Player of the Year after totaling 991 combined kick return yards.
Andersen, a junior, rushed for 1,412 yards as the Bobcats’ quarterback last season and is also on the first team. He started at running back in 2017; this season he is expected to line up primarily at outside linebacker and play on offense at times after being picked to the 2018 preseason All-Big Sky team.
Williams, another senior and a second-teamer, led the FCS last season with a 7.99 yards per carry average, and he rushed for 831 yards; he also returned 24 kickoffs for 547 yards and caught 17 passes for 127 yards and was third in the FCS with 167.78 all-purpose yards, tops in the OVC.
Their selections as “athletes’’ make sense. Newton’s doesn’t. It’s an insult, a slap in the face. Give me a break.
Newton has been scintillating since the first game of his career at Howard. He racked up 330 yards total offense –190 rushing, 140 passing – in his first collegiate start as the Bison upset UNLV 43-40 in the 2017 season opener. The Associated Press called the Bison’s win the biggest upset in college football history for a game with a point spread. The Bison entered the contest as 45-point underdogs.
The “athlete’’ designation isn’t just a slap in Newton’s face. It’s an insult to every black student-athlete in America, every black coach, every black college football fan, every black college athletic administrator and every black person regardless of if they are football fans or not. If you are a black person you should be outraged.
What’s disturbing is the folk at STATS don’t seem to get why blacks would be upset about them designating Newton as an ‘athlete.’ Senior Editor Craig Haley, who oversees the staff that selected the preseason team, said as much. He was quick to say that race wasn’t a consideration; it’s quite likely that it wasn’t, not overtly anyway. The real problem here is a clear lack of sensitivity and perhaps even a lack of inclusion.
Haley pointed out there was a lot of competition at the quarterback position and Newton was the odd man out. However, because he was a dual threat quarterback, the panel selected him as an “athlete.’’ That reasoning doesn’t pass muster.
First there is no such position in football as “athlete.’’ In talking to a number of coaches and others who have been involved in college football for a long, long time, the consensus is the term “athlete’’ is related to recruiting. That’s the designation that coaches universally use when they are uncertain which position and signee will play.
Haley went on to say Montana State’s Andersen was designated as “athlete’’ and he is white. However, as noted, the Bobcats used Andersen in a variety of roles and the ‘athlete’ designation would be justified if it were indeed a position. Even if it were a position, Newton doesn’t fit the profile. He hasn’t done the things that would qualify him. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.
It was pointed out to Haley that quarterback remains a hot button topic after all these years because of the history of blacks not being allowed to play the position, and labeling blacks who do play position “athletes’’ is a sensitive subject in the black community. His response was that numerous all-conference and all-American teams use that designation or all-purpose, and that last year STATS used ‘’all-purpose.’’ This year, STATS happened to switch it to “athlete,’’ and Newton would not have been on the team as the third-team quarterback.
“We wanted to put him on the team,” he said, “and we we’re pleased to put him on the team.’’
The all-purpose designation for Newton doesn’t stand up either. Quarterbacks aren’t ranked in the all-purpose yards statistical category. They are ranked in total offense. There is a difference.
Simply translated, Haley’s explanation says “be thankful we considered him at all.’’
Clearly STATS thought it was doing Newton a favor by merely naming him to its All-American team, and it goes without saying it is an honor. However, let’s not get things confused. No one did Newton a favor by designating him as ‘athlete.’ What it does is label him and sends the message that he plays the position, but he’s not really a quarterback – that he lacks all the necessary tools to be an elite field genera and signal caller. Labels follow you and are hard to shake.
If Newton hadn’t been named to any of the three teams as a quarterback, so be it. Just leave him off all together. That happens. It’s unlikely anyone would have been overly upset. But don’t belittle him by sticking him at a position that doesn’t exist and one that he has never played if it did exist.
To say, in essence we’re doing you’re a favor by putting you on any team as an “athlete” is the quintessence of insensitivity and raises the question of inclusion at STATS. How many blacks were involved in selecting the squad? You would like to think that applying the ‘athlete’ designation to Newton would have raised all sorts of red flags among black staffers in any were involved in the selection process. If blacks were involved and let it pass, shame on them.
This is 2019, the 21st century. We’ve put a man on the moon, mastered cyberspace and come up with countless innovations that at one time were beyond the scope of imagination. Newton’s designation takes us back to a time and place that many blacks probably thought -- and we all hoped – had passed. That was the time when blacks, despite their obvious physical talents and skills, weren’t considered by the majority race to be smart enough to play quarterback or savvy enough to lead a team.
That was the thinking in the 1940s, ’50s, ‘60ss and into the ‘70s. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2004, it seemed that time had brought about a change. Surely if America had enough confidence in a black man and his mental capacity and leadership ability to make him the leader of the most powerful country in the world, a black has what it takes to play quarterback. Apparently, the folk at STATS didn’t get the memo, giving credence to the notion that the only thing that changed with Obama’s election was we had a black man in the White House.
It’s the same thinking that denied Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins a fair shot to be the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback after he led Prairie View A&M to back-to-back national championships in 1953 and ’54; it’s the same thinking that hindered Roy Curry, the brilliant Jackson State signal caller who guided the Tigers to their first national championship in 1962; it’s the same thinking that led Darryl Johnson – a standout field general who quarterbacked two Morgan State teams during the Bears’ 31-game unbeaten streak in 1967 and ’68 –and Jim Kearney, another two-time Prairie View national championship quarterback, to move to the defensive backfield when they got to the pros with the Boston Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
That thinking also claimed Willie “Satellite’’ Totten, the record-setting quarterback at Mississippi Valley State who threw to Jerry Rice in the mid-1980s but never got a legitimate crack at failing or succeeding in the NFL; just this year the NFL snubbed Amir Hall of Bowie State, another record-setting quarterback and the 2019 Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year, in its draft and no team has signed him to a free agent contract.
That thinking is why “Jefferson Street’’ Joe Gilliam deliberately ran a 5.0 40-yard dash for scouts when he was coming out of Tennessee State. He wanted teams to understand that he was a quarterback, not an ‘athlete’ who could be moved to defensive back or wide receiver. That was the fate that befell Eldridge Dickey who preceded Gilliam at Tennessee State. The Oakland Raiders picked Dickey in the first round of the 1968 draft, ahead of Kenny “Snake’’ Stabler, their second round pick who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dickey ended up playing wide receiver and had five receptions for 112 yards a touchdown in four seasons.
That thinking is victimizing Newton. Welcome to the 21st century. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Black college football fans everywhere were deluded into thinking that attitudes about black college football had changed, and it’s easy to understand why. The sport is receiving an unprecedented amount of exposure. Games are televised nationally on ESPN’s platforms and a number of other cable outlets. ABC broadcasts the Celebration Bowl, which kicks off the bowl season and is the only contest being played in its time slot. Black colleges are annually atop the attendance charts for FCS and Division II, and the SWAC has been the top draw among FCS conferences for 40 of the last 42 years.
HBCUs have produced countless college All-Americans, Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame embers and productive citizens in general. STATS designating Newton as ‘athlete’’ sends the message that a black quarterback doesn’t quite measure up, even if it’s not what it intended to do. Regardless of the intention, it wasn’t right in the‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s not right that Caylin Newton is experiencing it in 2019.
Newton is a quarterback. Timeout with the lame excuses and half-baked reasoning. Recognize him for what he is and honor him for what he has accomplished.