In the days leading up to Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton spoke frankly about his place in the conversation on race and the NFL.

"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," he said.

Some seven months later, in an interview with GQ's Zach Baron that went online Monday, Newton was asked if he felt like football fans were racist towards him.

"It's not racism," the Panthers quarterback said. "Everybody's entitled to their own opinion."

So what does that mean?

"I'll let you be the judge. I don't look at it like that," Newton continued. "I look at it like some people have certain beliefs, and I have my own belief, and we can agree to disagree on certain things. But this is what makes sports so amazing, that we can start a discussion around a table, in the newspaper, in the magazines, that will get people's attention. And that's what sports does."

Reminded of his pre-Super Bowl comments about being "an African-American quarterback," Newton said, "I don't want this to be about race, because it's not. It's not. Like, we're beyond that. As a nation."

Does Newton really believe that?

"Yeah. I mean, you bring it to people's attention. But after that, that's it."

Of course, Newton is a regular target for his touchdown celebrations, which is peculiar because he's one of hundreds of players who, you know, celebrate after a touchdown. Last season, one Tennessee mother even wrote Newton an open letter, noting the "chest puffs ... pelvic thrusts ... and the 'in your face' taunting of Titans players and fans" as problematic.

(We don't remember any outrage following Travis Kelce's touchdown celebration.)

Never mind that Newton's foundation helped feed some 900 kids over Thanksgiving. Or that he won the Ed Block Courage Award in January for "courage on and off the field."

Wherever Newton's true feelings lie, he now seems more guarded, choosing his words carefully when speaking with reporters. It's understandable -- the backlash from speaking out can be both swift and severe. Perhaps it's why Newton told GQ that he had no opinion on Donald Trump. Or, when he was asked if he voted for the North Carolina governor that enacted that bathroom law, Newton admitted, " You know, I gain nothing by answering it."

Back in January, Panthers coach Ron Rivera remained confused about what makes Newton controversial.

"It's funny we still fight that battle 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 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. Hopefully we can get past those things."

In Newton's mind -- at least publicly -- it's already happening.