Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is regularly criticized for his touchdown celebrations, which is peculiar because he's one of hundreds of players who, you know, celebrate after a touchdown. 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.

Never mind that Newton's foundation helped feed 900 kids during Thanksgiving. Or that he won the Ed Block Courage Award earlier this month for "courage on and off the field."

Yet through it all -- and despite an MVP-worthy season -- Newton remains a target of criticism.  And he thinks he knows why.

“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 Wednesday, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer.

“Whether you win, lose or draw, people are going to talk. Now the true fans -- 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 nor does anybody else.”

By any measure, Newton is a legit MVP candidate. He threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns during the Panthers' 15-1 regular-season run. He also rushed for 636 yards and 10 more scores, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He ranked 11th in Football Outsiders' QB value metric, ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning.

Cam Newton has a good idea why he's been a lightning rod for criticism. (USATSI)
Cam Newton has a good idea why he's been a lightning rod for criticism. (USATSI)

In November, teammate Jared Allen compared Newton's celebrations to those of widely loved former NFL quarterback Brett Favre.

"People expect franchise quarterbacks to act a certain way. But he leads in his own unique way," Allen said at the time. "But it's so authentic that you've got to love it, you've got to let it go. Speaking of guys like Brett, people forget Brett was a fiery dude. Brett used to get into it all the time. I think it's great. You don't want to let a guy celebrate in your end zone, don't let him score."

Meanwhile, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, like most of us, remains confused about what is controversial about Newton.

“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.”