Cam Newton stiff-armed those who have been critical of him and his persona, explaining on Wednesday that he has not changed since he entered the NFL and has no plans to change now.
“I’ve said it since Day 1, I’m an African-American quarterback,” Newton said at a news conference in Charlotte as his Panthers gear up for Super Bowl 50. “That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to . . . It’s like, here I am, I’m doing exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it.”
That includes a repertoire of on-field dances and celebrations, posing for pictures on the sideline, and, after a divisional win against the Seahawks, yanking a “12” flag from a Seattle fan during a post-game celebration at Bank of America Stadium and throwing it to the ground. That last act drew the ire of some fans who called out his poor sportsmanship.
Newton likely will be named the league’s MVP next week, but right now he is the MPP: Most Polarizing Player. It’s a title that has been held by someone in just about every Super Bowl, from cocky Joe Namath all the way to Richard Sherman. They rock the establishment. They change perceptions. They speak their mind and sometimes get grief for it.
As Newton noted, it’s been that way for him since he came into the NFL with an army of doubters waiting to celebrate his failure. But now that he is one win away from being a Super Bowl champ – which would make him the third African-American quarterback to win the title – it’s Newton who has a chance to do the talking.
“When I look in the mirror, it’s me,” Newton said. “Nobody changed me, nobody made me act this certain type of way, and I’m true to my roots. And it feels great, but yet people are going to say whatever they want to say. And if I’m in this world living for that person -- ‘Oh, this person is going to say this, this person is going to say that’ -- then I can’t look at myself and say I’m Cam Newton, or Cameron Newton to most people. Because I’m not. Because I’m living for you.”
Ron Rivera, the Panthers’ head coach who took that job the same year the team drafted Newton with the first overall selection in 2011, said he hears the critics of his quarterback’s behaviors.
“It’s funny we still fight that battled based on what? All he’s done when he came in his rookie year . . . he had a dynamic rookie year,” Rivera said. “He was NFL [Offensive] Rookie of the Year. He’s been in conversations every year for awards. This year he’s in the conversation for MVP. I still don’t get why he has to [be criticized]. And maybe there are some people out there who are concerned with who he is, which I think is terrible. I really do.
“You’d think in this time, this day and age, it would be more about who he is as an athlete, as a person more than anything else,” Rivera continued. “Hopefully we can get past those things.”
Rivera has been a key figure in allowing Newton to be himself on the field.
“That’s just who he is,” the coach said. “People think that you should be stoic when you play this game and I think a lot of people disagree. You should be able to come out and have fun. This is a kid’s game we’re playing. I know there’s a lot of money involved and everything, but at the end of the day, it’s about entertainment and having fun.”
As for the racial aspect of Newton’s comments, Rivera downplayed it.
“I don’t think he wants to be known as an African-American quarterback,” Rivera said. “I think he wants to be known as a quarterback and I think that’s what drives him, to be able to transcend those boundaries, which I think is great.”
Newton mostly has been able to brush off the criticism like would-be tacklers.
“Whether you win, lose or draw, people are going to talk,” he said. “Now the true fans, they know what’s up. They’re going to be supportive whatever happens. . . . But people are going to judge and have their own opinion on certain things that I don’t have control over nor does anybody else.”
And now that he’s in the Super Bowl, it’s all magnified.
“Nothing’s pretty much changed,” Newton said. “They talk about maturity with me. They talk about skill-set with this team. Nobody has changed . . . The only thing that’s changed is that we’re winning.”