“He’s a showoff.” “He’s unprofessional.” “He’s disrespectful.”

The rhetoric surrounding Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton this season has been filled with complaints about his brash, cavalier style of play. But how can you fault a man who celebrates when he has a reason to celebrate?

Newton is blessed with a 6’5”, 260-pound frame and a cannon arm. Add in his winning smile and his fun-loving demeanor and you have what some may view as a dangerous combination. Dangerous because he not only has the physical skills to beat you, but he has the mindset to tell you he beat you. And that mindset becomes infectious and spreads to the entire team. If you have trouble stopping a team that celebrates every single time they reach the endzone or simply pick up positive yardage, it’s easy for you to get upset or offended. But it’s not about you and your tired #HotTakes.

Newton’s celebrations have never been about disrespecting his opponent. Newton celebrates for himself. He celebrates for his teammates. He celebrates for the Carolina fans. And with 35 passing touchdowns, 10 rushing scores and a 15-1 record, he and the Panthers have had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Newton is a shoo-in for the NFL MVP award and has his team on the cusp of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. How classy would you act if you were so close to achieving a lifelong dream?

A Tennessee mother wrote a letter to Newton after the Panthers’ 27-10 win over the Titans questioning his status as a role model and describing how his actions have a negative effect on children. “Unfortunately, what you modeled for them today was egotism, arrogance and poor sportsmanship,” she wrote. Why? Because he danced when he scored? Did this Tennessee mother have anything to say about the fact that Cam gives the ball to a kid in the stands after every touchdown he scores, too?

Does Aaron Rodgers not pump his fist and do the discount-double-check when he scores? Does JJ Watt not roar like a madman when he gets a sack? Have they received letters from people who are offended by their antics? Just because your quarterback or favorite player doesn’t celebrate like him, doesn’t prohibit Newton from enjoying and expressing himself.

Newton wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t long ago that he was being criticized for having an attitude in press conferences after a loss or acting poorly on the sidelines after making a bad play. So you can’t be upset when you lose, and you can’t be happy when you win either? Newton is an athlete who wears his heart on his sleeve, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the unspoken context of all this derisiveness aimed at Cam is the fact that he’s black. And if no one had outright discussed it this year, Newton made headlines this week when he inserted race into the conversation.

“I’ve said this since day one,” he said. “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”

Is race a factor as to why Newton receives so much criticism? Probably. On the field there’s never been a talent as singularly dominant as Cam is with his arm AND his feet. Throw in the fact that only five African-American quarterbacks have previously started a Super Bowl. That’s right, out of 100 starting quarterback roster slots in the Super Bowl, a mere .05% have been black: Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. None of them have Newton’s physical ability or his mindset, but we have seen these race-tinged accusations before. Notably with Colin Kaepernick being accused of not being “professional” by journalist Sal Maiorana. Nobody has ever seen anything to compare to Cam either, because there has never been a quarterback, White or Black, who has such a fun-loving personality to pair with his dominance on the field.

Newton’s path to Super Bowl 50 was forged with hard work and a smile. He is a once-ever superstar, a flash of a supernova that no one has seen before, or possibly, after. When he and the Panthers face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, he will have every right to dab, dance and act like Superman as much as he wants. Newton and the Panthers earned their spot in the Super Bowl, no one has any right to criticize them for how they choose to act when they are 60 minutes away from achieving their dream.

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