Even as he lead the Carolina Panthers on a steady march toward this year’s Super Bowl, star quarterback Cam Newton caught flack for his unapologetic self-assurance and penchant for celebratory “dabbing.” In a new interview, Newton spoke frankly about why he has gotten more scrutiny and criticism than most other NFL players. 

“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,” Newton told The Charlotte Observer yesterday (January 27). He then added, “People are going to judge and have their own opinion on certain things that I don’t have control over, nor does anybody else.”

Newton has faced this kind of criticism from journalists, commentators and football fans alike ever since he was drafted to the Panthers in 2011—all of it focused on behavior that doesn’t draw nearly as much scrutiny for White  players. One Seattle Seahawks fan even petitioned to ban Newton from CenturyLink Field, calling him ”one of the most unprofessional, unsportsmanlike individual [sic] on the face of the planet.” We need not spell out the subtext behind much of this criticism.

Besides his legions of fans, Newton has an ally in Doug Williams, who in 1988 was first Black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl. Williams won the MVP award (for which Newton is considered a front-runner) during that game after leading the Washington NFL Team to a 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos—the same team that Newton and the Panthers will face in the 50th Super Bowl on February 7. Speaking to USA Today, Williams discussed the culture of denial surrounding criticsm of Newton:

“I’m not going to be the one who says what my thinking is, because sometimes it don’t matter what I think,” Williams said. “It ain’t going to matter what he thinks. Because at the end of the day you’ve got a lot of people denying [racism is behind the criticism of Newton], that that’s not true. Even if it’s true, they’re going to deny it.”

When Newton squares off against the Broncos’ veteran QB Peyton Manning in San Francisco, he will be only the sixth Black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. 

(H/t The Charlotte Observer, USA Today, Complex