Cam Newton Meets Booker T: WWE Predicted Super Bowl 50 Thirteen Years Ago

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“Triple H – he’s a champion you can be proud of. Do you want a thug for a champion?” – Jerry “The King” Lawler

“People like you don’t get to be World Champion. You’re not a champion – you’re an entertainer. Go ahead, do your little dance.” – Triple H

“….you can pick up our bags, put that chauffer’s hat on, drive that limousine, take our bags up to our rooms and do something you’re qualified for.” – “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

13 years ago, these men playing “characters” on television disparaged a future Hall of Famer as part of a racially charged WWE storyline. Booker T, the most decorated champion of the second largest wrestling promotion in the history of the industry, was set to face then (and ironically enough, current) World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H, at Wrestlemania XIX. In order to add some emotional charge, the decision was made to turn the Connecticut blue blood Triple H really bad by having him and his mentor, Ric Flair, use as many racist tropes as they could get away with. Reminiscent of 10 years prior with Ron Simmons (the first African-American heavyweight champion in professional wrestling history) and Harley Race (manager for Vader, then-WCW World Champion who would lose the title to Simmons), the barbs tossed at Booker T by not only Triple H and Flair but also Jerry Lawler on commentary were nearly constant for the weeks approaching Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania has commonly been referred to as the Super Bowl of wrestling, easily the biggest show of the year that sells out football stadiums worth of attendance annually and has millions watching globally.

This year, in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, there was an intense amount of racially charged commentary leveled at 2015-2016 MVP Cam Newton. From him wearing a hoodie or a hat to how he celebrates his touchdowns and leads his teammates, he couldn’t be himself – a young Black man who openly embraces Black culture – without it being a subject of popular criticism. There was the mom who wrote an open letter that the endzone dancing Cam does is shameful. There are the comments about how Cam’s emotional behavior isn’t the right way to be a leader and certainly not a quarterback – the most important position on the team. Quarterbacks are supposed to be quiet leaders of men, intense but never too boisterous and certainly not classless. Most of the commentators were white, and once that “thug” word snuck up again after the Panthers won the NFC Title it was like the world re-wrote the storyline from over a decade ago in real life.

The World Championship to be decided between veteran champion Peyton Manning of football’s royal family and Cam – the athletic Black upstart with accolades from the small time who never forgot his roots. Peyton isn’t known for racist statements (unlike recently FIRED Riley “I’ll fight every nigger here bro” Cooper) so there’s no direct comparison for the competitors, but the masses can fit the role of Lawler, Triple H, and Flair. The masses uttered vile statements and worse towards Cam while placing a glass ceiling over his head and saying that his emotional conduct on the field (similar to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady), flashy playing style (Broadway Joe anybody?), and his exuberance of fun while playing (“Brett Favre just looks like he’s having fun out there!”) are all contributing to his own downfall. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that he’s Black – big B, not little b. That means he likes being Black and embraces what Blackness looks like in the current era. It’s got a different style than before; it’s a little extra, it’s a bit more emotional, and it’s extremely unapologetic. It’s been dangerous to be unapologetically Black in recent years for many of us, but for Cam it translated into him being a representative of Black people everywhere – for Black people to be proud of and white racists to hiss at from behind their keyboards.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I took an informal poll of the friends at the gathering I held about who was rooting for the Panthers and who was rooting for the Broncos. We all were rooting for the Panthers, mostly on the back of Cam being Cam over seeing Peyton win one on the way out. They noticed, however, that the people they’d asked about the game were often white rooting for the Broncos and Black rooting for the Panthers. “That Cam, there’s something about him I just don’t like.” “Peyton plays the game the way it should be played.” These were the kinds of reasons given for why they rooted against the Panthers – it was that they had a Black (Big B, not little b) quarterback leading them as the face of the franchise and how he was doing things didn’t sit right with these white people. Never mind that Peyton Manning had his worst season since his rookie year and was benched; it was that he took the benching with grace and his disposition is a champion’s disposition. He appears unflappable at all times, the way that men are supposed to be – cold, cerebral, unemotional, effective. Cam represents a different kind of man and doesn’t have that traditionally white championship demeanor. His celebrations and emotional play remind me of Tiger Woods when he burst on the scene. That fist pump is iconic because he did it often and because golf was the ultimate in polite sports – celebrating like that was virtually unseen. Nobody could say shit to him though, because he was the best of a generation. The same may one day be said of Cam, but if 15-1 and a Super Bowl berth isn’t enough for people to get off of his back about enjoying the ride and being the same kind of player that got him to this stage then they might not be looking to be convinced. We should remember they’re calling Cam a thug and everything else even though he’s been a model citizen in the NFL and regularly displayed the kind of community commitment that a face of a NFL franchise should.

Booker T was unapologetically Black before we had any idea of that term. As a pro wrestler, he came into his own “raising the roof,” hollering “can you dig that sucka,” and using Black slang naturally in the mid-90s and early 2000s. His signature move was the Spinaroonie, a breakdancing predecessor to Cam’s Dab that he broke out when he was on a roll or to celebrate a win. During a live pre-match interview on Pay-Per-View, he got so into the interview he said, “Hulk Hogan! I’m coming for you, nigga!” Prior to Wrestlemania, he told his life story live on television in front of millions: youngest of 7, his Dad ran out on him, Mom died while he was a kid, he fell in with the wrong crowd and went to jail for armed robbery. Came out of jail and invested in himself, caught a break, and the rest is history. It’s a story all too familiar for many Blacks in some way shape or form, and his ability to use his entertainment and athleticism to win championships should be an example that you can be yourself and succeed with the right chance. For the entirety of his career, except for a brief stint as a King, he was an entertaining Black guy who wrestled as an entertaining Black guy. He was himself, evidenced by his last words to Triple H before the bell rang at Wrestlemania XIX, “Yo punk ass in trouble. Yo punk ass in TROUBLE.”

Some people think that smart wrestling logic would be that after all of these indignities suffered from Triple H and Flair, that Booker T would be the fan favorite underdog who deserved to win the World Heavyweight Title. In a well executed, technical match, Triple H (thanks to interference from Flair) retained the World Title at Wrestlemania. Booker hit all of his best offense but had too much to overcome in order to win, though the abrupt finish killed the match – Triple H hits his finishing move and after an extremely long time, pins our hero with one hand. Lawler continues to disparage Booker’s past in prison and claim that he just doesn’t measure up to Triple H throughout the match, with Jim Ross doing his best to salvage some respect for Booker T. The story ends up going that the hero suffers public racist humiliation and isn’t able to overcome it in the biggest match of his career. The whole reason the story takes the hero through so much hell is so that the hero has a redemptive victory, right?! This would have been possible down the road but there was never a rematch between Triple H and Booker T for the World Heavyweight Championship. Perhaps WWE was being refreshingly honest about America – the Black hero’s best hope might be to make it to the big show but if he doesn’t win, he won’t get anymore shots.

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There wasn’t a storybook ending scripted for the for real life storyline, as the Panthers fell short in Super Bowl 50 much to the delight of the Cam haters. Bill Romanowski, a guy who spat in people’s faces while playing football against them, commented that Cam’s attitude isn’t championship worthy, “boy.” As though one of the dirtiest players in the game for a generation has room to make moral commentary since Romo was mostly a mad dog who had to be leashed. Cam’s inability to handle losing “well” enough or graciously enough mattered to a public who didn’t participate in the game. It matters more than Johnny Football apparently rupturing a woman’s eardrum. It matters more than when Peyton Manning, the same championship quality guy, stormed off the field without shaking hands after losing to Drew Brees in the Super Bowl. It all matters more because he’s Black.

Still, I wish that Cam scored in the Super Bowl JUST so he could dab on em. Just like I wish I’d gotten to see a Wrestlemania World Championship win for Booker T. I vividly remember watching Triple H berate Booker T with coded and explicit racist language and feeling personally insulted as a fan.  Booker T was a Black person who embraced Black culture willingly, much like myself, and to see the person I could vicariously live through experience such humiliation without the comeuppance did turn me away from watching wrestling for years. Although Booker T never received a rematch against Triple H, Cam has a rematch every season until he retires or the masses accept an unapologetically Black person (note the backlash Beyonce is receiving for her halftime show performance). Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid watching Cam’s rematches.

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Can You Separate A Man’s Contributions From His Actions?

So I have a few motivations for this post – Chris Benoit, Tookie Williams, Martin Heidegger and Immanuel Kant.  All 4 of these men, in some way, have been important in the past 100 years.  And all 4 of these men made some sort of contributions to their respective fields (Williams is a special case but still fits), and all 4 of these men had a serious problem attached to them.  So the question becomes, can you separate the man and his contributions from his actions?

Kant portrait

Kant portrait

Let’s start with the one who inarguably had the biggest impact – Kant.  Every philosopher of the late 19th century onto the present is familiar with his work, either intimately or in passing, simply because the history of philosophy funnels through Kant.  His conception of synthetic a priori knowledge as a middle ground to the epistemological problem is but one of many things Kant brought to philosophy.  He effectively contributed significantly to every possible field of philosophy.  He was the end of the modern philosophical period that was filled with responses to the theory of knowledge and he was the first major middle ground between the rationalists and the empiricists.  The Critique of Pure Reason is easily one of the top 5 most important philosophical works in history.  He’s the biggest thing to come out of the Enlightenment.  I could go on and on and on, but he was (and still could be considered) the single most important philosopher since the ancient trio of Socrates/Plato/Aristotle (and I’m not even a Kantian, as far as I know).

But he had his problem – he was a known anti-Semite.  There are works out there that show that many of the prominent Enlightenment German thinkers were anti-Semitic and racist.  Kant is not excluded from this distinction, and in fact, is the target of many of these works.  I did a little digging, and here are some quotes from Kant regarding Jews and non-whites, as well as a summation of his opinions of Jews and non-whites.

Every coward is a liar; Jews for example, not only in business, but also in common life.”

Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites.”

In a book from Michael Mack, Mack asserts that Kant produced his transformative philosophical ideals by positing them as the opposite of the Jews.  He considered Judaism a materialistic religion, based on a quid pro quo with God.  Now, whether or not his anti-Semitism was an influence on his philosophy isn’t what I’m worried about.  It’s certainly something to think about, but not the principle issue here.  The question is, can you separate the racist anti-Semite from the groundbreaking philosopher?

Heidegger

Heidegger

The same trend comes with Martin Heidegger.  Being and Time can be considered one of the most important works of the early 20th Century, and a development in phenomenology and a beginning to existentialism.  His addressing of the fundamental question of “what is being?” came to the forefront of 20th Century continental philosophy, his destruction of the history of philosophy after Socrates was something I held a reserved appreciation for, and the concepts of “fallenness,” “Dasein,” “thrownness,” “authenticity,” and other terms really changed philosophy.  Again, he’s a big time philosopher.  And again…he had his issues with Jews.  More to the point, he was a member of the Nazi party.  He defended Nazism and promoted it, and showed no remorse when his mentor, Edmund Husserl (a Jew), was forced out of a job essentially.  One could say Heidegger wasn’t a very good person.  But the question again gets asked – can you separate the major contributions to philosophy from the fact that Heidegger was at one time a proud Nazi?

Tookie Williams

Tookie Williams

Tookie Williams was a 5 time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.  Though he was in prison from 1979 until his execution in 2005, he renounced his former gang affiliation and even wrote anti-gang children’s books.  He helped broker a 2004 peace agreement between the Crips and the Bloods, two of the most infamous gangs in America.  He was even commended by President George W. Bush for his social activism.  Tookie also had a very checkered past, one that began with his co-founding of the Crips (though he wrote an apology for his role in creating the Crips), and included a number of robberies and murders, which ended up with him in prison and ultimately executed by the state of California, even though his supporters cited his changed life as a reason to keep him alive.  But can you separate his anti-gang work from the fact that he helped found one of America’s major gangs?

Finally, the most recent of the 4 men (and really the primary impetus for this writing), Chris Benoit.  I grew up as a big fan of wrestling, starting with the Ultimate Warrior (little did I know he actually was a crappy wrestler), I was a Hulkamaniac, but I always held a special admiration for the guys who were “technical wrestlers.”  The guys who made it look so effortless and really honed their craft.  The Mr. Perfects, the Bret Harts, and towards the turn of the century, the Kurt Angles, the Chris Jerichos…and the Chris Benoits.  As a wrestler, he was a true in-ring artist.  He could sell any moves, he could perform any move and damn, he just knew how to wrestle.  His match in Canada vs. Bret Hart for the WCW Championship was great to watch.  His Wrestlemania 20 triple threat match with Shawn Michaels and Triple H, great wrestlers in their own right, is considered one of the top Wrestlemania matches in history, which is saying something.  He could work great as a heel, great as a face, and was just a great ring storyteller.  Most wrestling fans enjoyed watching Benoit work, and I had the pleasure of seeing him have 3 great Pay-Per-View matches with a then up and coming Montel Vontavious Porter at Wrestlemania 23, Backlash 2007, and Judgment Day 2007 in person.  The man knew how to work.

Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit

But then there’s the whole murder-suicide of his family just outside of Atlanta later that summer (it actually all went down on my birthday, June 22).  Wrestling fans everywhere were in an outrage and this is where it is most evident recently about the separation of one’s professional career and one’s personal life.  Benoit, up until June 22, 2007, was world-renown as a world class professional wrestler.  Immediately following the revelation of the events that led to his death and his family’s death (that he killed them), there were fans who said they couldn’t watch wrestling anymore.  There were fans who could separate the insanity behind the curtain and the entertainment in front of the curtain.  And there were those who hated everything Benoit stood for, in wrestling and otherwise.  Can there be fault taken with any of those positions?

While I try to remain neutral in some respects, I find it very difficult in many instances to reconcile the advances each man made in the public sphere while having very contentious private lives.  But can I really discount Kant’s impact and advances by swiftly dismissing him as a racist anti-Semite?  Can I wipe Being and Time from my memory because he was a Nazi?  Do I forget about Tookie’s work promoting anti-gang work because he killed a bunch of people and started one of the most infamous gangs in America?  Do I forget about Benoit’s amazing in-ring work because of how his life ended?  Which one overvalues the other?  Which is the more important?

Honestly, for each person I hold a different view.  Kant’s anti-Semitism is to be deplored, but his philosophical advancement I won’t remove because of it.  His racism means the same for me – one’s vices doesn’t prevent one from making a great contribution.  Heidegger took it a step further by joining the Nazis, and that part of his life is to also be deplored.  But I can’t ignore the impact of Heideggerian phenomenology on my personal philosophical interests nor on philosophy as a whole.  It is possible to dislike the man and what the man stands for and not his philosophical outlook.  Tookie is a special case, as he took lives and I am ardently anti-gang.  Murderers apologize for killing people, with real remorse, and apologize for their wrongdoings, also with real remorse.  I believe he held remorse for those actions, but what he spun into existence – the Crips – just angers me.  But I still value and appreciate his activism after the fact.  And finally, Benoit.  I hate what he did.  But his in-ring performance is still something I can appreciate.  I love his matches to this day and I don’t want to remove him, or any of these other men from history because of their poor decisions.  Even assholes can contribute to society, but still inevitably be the asshole they are.  Bad people can do good things (though I’m not going to make moral judgments about these men right now), and racists can make non-racist contributions to society, a killer can make a difference, and a steroid-using wife and child killer can create entertainment.  So I have separated a man’s contributions to the world from his personal actions, provided that the contributions weren’t fueled by the actions (so Heidegger’s Being and Time isn’t Nazi propaganda but has true philosophical merit, the Critique of Pure Reason also isn’t anti-Semitic literature, Benoit’s matches weren’t an endeavor to kill people and Tookie Williams’ anti-gang work wasn’t just a ruse to create more gangbangers), which is a fairly specific and yet open criteria. What I fear is that people perform unnecessary criticisms of these mens’ contributions because of their problems, which is a bit of an ad hominem fallacy unless they can show the connection that their vices contributed to their input.

So the question comes to you, my public – can you separate a man from his actions?

(Oh, and women/transgendered/unknowns also apply to this question, but I just used the patriarchal tradition for ease.)