Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton ignited a media firestorm regarding his comments about being an African American quarterback in the NFL. In a country where race is often an emotional and complicated issue, Newton engendered numerous reactions for his comments. As the presumed on-field leader of the team, the NFL quarterback has to manage dealing with local and national media as well as he deals with an oncoming defensive end attempting to tackle him. The strategic leader of all NFL teams remains the head coach as he deals with the day to day planning and strategy to make his team a winning and successful one. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has transitioned from a decent career as a former NFL player and Super Bowl champion to a head coach that won the 2013 NFL Coach of the Year and led his team to the best season in franchise history. The combination of leadership between Newton and Rivera have been arguably most responsible for the Panthers success in 2015 and in the process have made some NFL history.
Cam Newton shatters the mold of the “conventional” NFL quarterback. Although he has prototypical size and arm strength of the ideal NFL quarterback, his mobility and flair that he plays with on the field draws plenty of attention from fans and opposing players, who generally have strong feelings for his on-field displays. As a former Heisman Trophy winner, Newton has carried his college success into the NFL which is rare. He has the opportunity to be just the third ever Black starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl should the Panthers win Super Bowl 50 following Doug Williams and Russell Wilson.
Ron Rivera has opened up eyes with his success with the Carolina Panthers. Following his success as a defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears, Rivera was hired in 2011. His hiring was historic as he became just the third Latino head coach in NFL history, joining Tom Flores with the Oakland Raiders from 1979-87 and Seattle Seahawks from 1992-94 and Tom Fears with the New Orleans Saints from 1967-70. By leading the team to Super Bowl 50, Rivera became the second head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl joining Flores.
The NFL quarterback and NFL head coach are the two most important leadership positions for all NFL teams. Due to racial stereotypes, in the past there was the notion that successful NFL teams could not hire racial minorities to lead NFL franchises. In obliterating those stereotypes about leadership positions, Ron Rivera and Cam Newton together have made NFL history while proving that racial minorities can lead at the highest level.