Cam Newton scares people.
He scares defensive backs 60 pounds lighter than he is trying to tackle him.
He scares some little kids because he looks like a giant, which is why he drops to one knee so often to talk to them.
And he scares some conservative folks, and some folks in the football establishment, and some folks who don’t appreciate his dancing, and a few folks who are – no two ways about it – prejudiced.
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This is a topic Newton has danced around for most of his five years in the NFL.
He stopped dancing Wednesday.
“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people,” Newton said, “because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”
People like boxes. Cam Newton has turned out to be too big to fit into any of them.
A running quarterback? An athletic quarterback? A black quarterback?
Yes, Newton is all of those. He’s also a pocket passer. A leader. A winner. A soon-to-be NFL MVP.
Does he show off after a first down? Yes.
Has he established a “Sunday giveaway” tradition with footballs and kids that has become one of the most delightful NFL traditions? Yes.
He has been criticized since he made it into the NFL, and yet in five years in Charlotte he’s never embarrassed the Carolina Panthers organization.
He leads a team that is 17-1 and playing in Super Bowl 50. He interacts as easily and frequently with children as any athlete.
“I’m comfortable with the position that I’m in right now,” Newton said.
And, he added, he and the Panthers couldn’t “care less what you say” if you don’t like them.
“Now the true fans,” Newton continued, “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.”
Of course, Newton does have control over some things, and he chooses to do them anyway. This season, he has torn down a Green Bay banner, thrown a Seattle “12th Man” flag, treated the end zone like his personal dance club and organized photo ops on the sideline during games.
Some people – skewing toward the younger side – love him for all of that. And some people – including former NFL stars Dick Butkus and Richard Dent – absolutely can’t stand that sort of stuff. Too brash, too showy.
Newton could be the most polarizing player in the Super Bowl, and it’s possible he also will be the best player. Whatever he does on Super Bowl Sunday, though, he promises he will stay true to himself.
“When I look in the mirror, it’s me, you know what I’m saying?” 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.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who became a head coach the same year Newton was drafted in 2011, seemed puzzled as to why Newton is still polarizing to some.
“It’s funny we still fight that battle – based on what?” Rivera asked. “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).”
Rivera said Newton has never wanted to be known as “just a black quarterback.”
“I’m kind of in the same boat,” Rivera said. “Some people want to tag me as a Hispanic head coach. That’s great, but the truth of the matter is I just want to be tagged as a head coach. It should really be about your merit.”
Scare people? Yeah, Newton does – but most of them should be defensive coordinators.
“I think people ought to be scared of a quarterback with his skill set more than anything else,” Rivera said. “He’s a tremendously gifted athlete, a terrific quarterback, a smart football player.”
Newton said he tries to reserve judgment on others because of the judgments that have been heaped upon him dating to his college days at Auburn and the “pay-for-play” scandal that involved his father and Mississippi State. The NCAA determined Cam Newton and Auburn were innocent.
“I have come to this point in my life where I’ve been faced with so much from good, bad or indifferent,” Newton said, “that I try to check myself if I’m trying to judge somebody. I think we all are guilty of it at times. And if we look in the mirror, look in our own closet, we see that we’re not perfect.”
At 26, Newton long ago realized he will never please everyone. But he has grown up some, even though he likes to say he is the same person who strode out of Auburn as Carolina’s No. 1 draft pick. And he understands what will make him even more popular on Feb. 7.
“Find any way – any way – to win a football game,” Newton said. “Because when you win, that’s going to give them something else to talk about.”
Super Bowl 50
- Who: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers
- When: Sunday, Feb. 7, 3:30 p.m.
- Where: Levi’s Stadium
- TV/radio: Ch. 13, 1140