CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been dancing on the field all season, but he's done dancing around the divisive topic of what makes him so polarizing.
Newton lay bare Wednesday in the lead-up to Super Bowl 50 what he believes is the reason why he has been such a lightning rod for criticism in his career.
"I'm an African-American quarterback that may scare people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to," said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton.
The No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft out of Auburn, Newton has his share of detractors who either don't like how he plays, his celebrations or his abundance of self-confidence.
Newton, a leading MVP candidate in the league who put up record-breaking numbers, said he learned a long time ago that he can't please everyone.
"People are going to judge, and have opinions on things I don't have control over," Newton said.
The stout and speedy Newton is beating teams with his arm and his legs, throwing for 35 touchdowns and running for 10 this season. He has helped lead the Panthers to their first Super Bowl since 2003.
Newton, 26, acknowledged being leery of talking about how others may perceive him.
"I think it's a trick question," Newton said. "If I answer it truthfully it's going to be 'Aw, he's this or that.' But I will say it anyway. I don't think people have seen what I am or what I'm trying to do."
Coach Ron Rivera doesn't believe Newton should have to fight perceptions about race.
"I think he has always strived to have that separation," Rivera said. "I don't think he wants to be known as an African-American quarterback; he wants to be known as a quarterback. I think that is what drives him, to be able to transcend those boundaries, which I think is great."
Rivera, who is Hispanic, said he has battled that notion to some degree himself.
"It really should be about your merits more than anything else," the coach said. "More about what you have accomplished, what you have done."
The All-Pro quarterback plays the game with open enthusiasm, pointing his arms forward after running for a first down, doing the "Dab" in the end zone and handing balls to kids in the stands after scoring touchdowns. He gets his teammates to pose for pictures on the sideline near the end of games when the outcome is no longer in doubt.
Newton's teammates have their own theories about the anti-Newton uproar.
Cornerback Charles Tillman said it might be because Newton wins in an "unconventional way," unlike a traditional NFL quarterback, and fans aren't used to that. Tillman likens Newton, in some respects, to former Gators and Broncos QB Tim Tebow.
"People would say, 'Oh Tebow is not a good quarterback,' but the guy won games and took his team to the playoffs," Tillman said. "All Tim Tebow did was say that he loved Jesus and he prayed all of the time — and people hated him for that."
PAPA SHULA GOING: Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, 86, plans to attend Super Bowl 50, where he'll root for his son. Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who was the Bucs' offensive coordinator from 1996 to 1999, was 7 when he watched his dad's Dolphins beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl to finish the 1972 season 17-0.
QB WILSON GOES NO. 1: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was the first pick in the Pro Bowl draft. Wilson was chosen by Michael Irvin, who is serving as a Pro Bowl legend captain opposite fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for Sunday's game. Rice took Giants quarterback Eli Manning with his first pick, the second overall in the draft. Falcons receiver Julio Jones went with the third choice to Team Irvin, and Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack was drafted by Team Rice with the fourth pick. Full draft, 2C
COACH OUT OF PRO BOWL: Packers coach Mike McCarthy pulled out of his Pro Bowl coaching assignment, saying doctors have advised him not to travel to Hawaii as he battles a stomach illness. The Packers said associate head coach Winston Moss will handle head-coaching duties at the Pro Bowl.
NINERS: New coach Chip Kelly named former Browns defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil to the same position on San Francisco's staff.