For the first time in Super Bowl history, we will watch a team field a Latino head coach and a black quarterback. It’s a milestone that should reflect a cultural shift in how the league markets the game and attracts new, non-white fans. It's also a prime example of how African-American and Latino achievement on the gridiron can inspire the rest of America.
We saw how great a quarterback Cam is throughout the entire year, and is Sunday's NFC Championship, he surgically picked apart Arizona’s defense, racking up 335 yards and four touchdowns (two running and two passing) in a 49-15 rout.
Watching him smile, dab and grin throughout the game reminded me of the homies throwing the pigskin around in the middle of the street during a warm summer day. Pacing the sidelines was a less entertaining yet equally consequential figure in Rivera, who has quietly orchestrated the Panther’s ascension over the last few years and current dominance.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Unless you follow the NFL closely, you really don’t hear much about Rivera or his significance in the Panther’s success. But, you don’t need to be a football aficionado to appreciate the duality of Cam and Rivera’s cultural impact on the game, and what their appearance in Super Bowl 50 means for American race relations.
Seeking greatness as an African-American or Latino usually means you are aiming for some higher office or position that, historically, has been reserved exclusively for white men. Despite the success of players like Warren Moon, Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham among others in the 1980's, football fans have only recently grown used to a team starting a black quarterback.
And, with the exception of Tom Flores, who lead the Oakland Raiders to two Super Bowls in 1981 and 1983, Latino head coaches are even rarer than black ones. And we can still count on one hand how many black quarterbacks have played in the Super Bowl.
Given that the NFL's fan base is 83 percent white, a Latino coaching a black quarterback in the Super Bowl is no minor milestone.
We all remember the negative scouting reports on Cam when he was at Auburn: "he has a bad attitude, he can’t read defenses, he can’t lead the locker room."
Isn't that what they said?
Five years later, he has lead his team to the Super Bowl with a 15-1 record and has eclipsed Tom Brady as the best quarterback in the game. The NFL usually brands its leading (white) quarterbacks as ambassadors of the shield. There seems to be a reluctance to pass that honor on to Cam, but the brass at league headquarters in New York doesn't really have a choice now.
They have to recognize his greatness and figure out how to market the fact that he was coached by a Latino. And they need to do it fast.
Cam and Rivera’s respective fan bases are recognizing their buying and political power in ways that can challenge the league if they feel their interests are slighted.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Black women have outvoted every other demographic in the past two presidential elections; they are also fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America, according to a recent study. Overall, women make up 45 percent of the NFL fan base. Latinos, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, are estimated to have $1.5 trillion in buying power, a 50 percent increase from $1 trillion in 2010.
At least the NFL seems to be adjusting to these demographic realities. The league spent $243.8 million on Latino media in 2012, a 60 percent increase over five years in response to that fan base growing from 5.5 percent in 2004 to 8.7 percent in 2014. It is a smart move, given that the U.S. Census expects America to be nonwhite by 2043.
It is not clear how these major racial shifts in America’s population will impact the league’s fan base, but what we are seeing in the case of Cam and Rivera is that Latinos and African-Americans are dominating the game. Together.
And that’s a great thing for the league. It compliments what Latinos and African-Americans are already doing together in the fight against police brutality, campaigning together in electoral politics and forging business partnerships to harness our political and economic power. Together, no one can stop us.
Cam and Rivera proved that Sunday night: they are the ultimate combination of people of color kicking ass.
As a black person, I'm overjoyed by what Cam has achieved this year. But I'm just as proud of Rivera, my Latino brother, for dominating the game with a clipboard. It makes me imagine a Latino running for President or governor and picking a black person as his or her running mate. Or visa versa.
I’d love to see an African-American and a Latino launch a start-up that earns billions of dollars and serves their communities economic interests. Yes, Cam and Rivera’s performances have me imagining all of these possibilities.
In the end, it is all about figuring out how we can merge our very diverse groups to fight a system that has rarely wanted to honor our humanity.
Without doing it intentionally, that is what Cam and Rivera are doing in the NFL. I hope African-Americans and Latinos outside of the gridiron can be inspired to do the same in our communities as well.