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Cam Newton enters new territory with passionate comments on race in America

The reigning NFL MVP broke from his typical evenhanded demeanor with the media to make a big statement about race in America.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After maintaining a rather neutral stance on the violence and unrest in the country recently, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton spoke of accountability as a central theme Wednesday.

If he’s held accountable at his job, so should others when the stakes are higher than winning and losing a football game.

“But what if people are dying?” Newton asked at his weekly press conference.

In his most expansive comments on race relations and social justice in his career, the league’s reigning MVP spoke for more than 12 minutes about race in America less than one day after yet another black man was gunned down by police, this time just up the road in Charlotte.

“I’m an African-American. I am not happy how the justice has been kind of dealt with over the years. The state of oppression in our community. But we also, as black people, have to do right by ourselves. We can’t be hypocrites.

“I say that on one voice but also on another voice that when you go public or when things happen in the community, it’s not the fact that things are happening.  It’s the way they’re being treated after they’re happening. When you get a person that does some unjust things or killing an innocent person, killing fathers, killing people who have actual families. That’s real.”

Then Newton continued with the strongest statement I’ve ever heard him say on anything.

“I have a son and a daughter that I’m responsible for. So how would I be if one day they come home and there’s no more daddy?”

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This is the kind of chilling idea that sticks with you. Remember when President Obama said if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin? This was as close to that as Cam Newton could get.

It’s as passionate as I’ve seen Newton speak since two days after the Super Bowl when he stood at his locker and defended his postgame press conference and not diving on the loose ball. He wasn’t stalling to think of how to phrase something correctly.

This was not the “We’re beyond racism” Cam that we’ve seen and that I wrote about last week. This was Cam begging to know when enough would be enough.

Newton did touch on black-on-black crime in major cities, though, which will dissatisfy some. Most people commit crimes to whom they are in relative proximity. And in many of these cities, discriminatory housing policies dating back to Jim Crow have led to the creation of these “inner cities”, “ghettos” and “projects”.

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Newton acknowledged his lose-lose situation Wednesday. He’s long been stuck in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum. Speak strongly on race and racism (especially here in North Carolina) and there will be division. Speak on it strongly and get something wrong, and maybe your well-meaning message creates harm. Ignore it completely and maybe you’ll be called a traitor.

But Newton said he was always going to stay true to himself. He says he knows he’s a black man and doesn’t want to escape that, but he also says he doesn’t view the world through a race prism. He wants accountability on the practice field and in communities and within police departments.

He thought it crazy how long the list of names has become of people who have died at police hands. Almost every day there’s a new hashtag. #TamirRace. #EricGarner. #TerenceCrutcher. He finds it hard to fathom that some officers, after shooting and killing these people, are put on paid leave.

Newton was wise not to point fingers at the Tuesday incident in Charlotte that left Keith Lamont Scott dead after he was waiting to pick up his son. Police, relatives and alleged witnesses are offering different accounts of what led to Smith being shot and killed by an officer who had two years on the job.

Did Scott have a book or a gun? Did officers see Scott, a father of seven, exit his car with a gun once or twice? Why wasn’t the officer who shot him wearing a body camera? With North Carolina’s new law on body camera footage about to go into effect, will we ever see the film from the cameras of the other officers at the scene? Can Charlotte effectively protest Wednesday night without causing injury to others, or will we again face the paradox of meeting a militarized police force sent to de-escalate the situation? Will there be justice when the truth is found?

And if Cam wants accountability, those are some of the questions that need answering.