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(Reuters) - Cam Newton believes the criticism surrounding his persona is partly due to him being an African-American quarterback who does not fit the traditional mould, the Carolina Panthers signal-caller said on Wednesday.
Newton's polarizing popularity has become a focal point this season as he has celebrated his way to a likely MVP campaign and led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.
"I'm an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen anything that they can compare me to," Newton told reporters on Wednesday as he prepared for Carolina's showdown with Denver on Feb 7.
"People are going to say what they want to say, and if I'm in this world living for that person who is going to say this or that, then I can't look at myself and say I'm Cam Newton because I'd be living for (my critics)."
Newton can hardly be compared to other QBs as he is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound specimen who can just as easily use his rocket arm as he can run through, or leap over a defense.
But his penchant for celebrating touchdowns and big plays and general showmanship has rubbed some the wrong way. Seattle Seahawks fans, who suffered a playoff loss to the Panthers a week and a half ago, were particularly irked that Newton ripped down one of their signs at Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium.
They have started a petition to ban Newton from Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
"I'd like to believe (the criticism is about) his personality more than anything, the idea that you should be stoic when you play this game," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
"It really should be about your merit more so than anything else, about what you've accomplished and what you've done. That's how we should judge people."
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Amlan Chakraborty