How did Cam Newton become the most polarizing figure of Super Bowl 50 before the Carolina Panthers left Charlotte?

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton is introduced during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is introduced during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Is it because he had an MVP season and plays with a swag that is hip hop’s answer to Brett Favre?  Is it because his skill set –an accurate passer who makes every throw and a punishing runner who makes defenders pay for trying to tackle him – is something pro football has never seen before?  Or is it because Newton is that transcendent quarterback who will finally change the perception about his position the way Barack Obama changed the complexion of the White House?

The truth is that it is all of the above.

Cam is everything you want in the face of a franchise quarterback. He just happens to be Black.  He is unapologetic for his success but endearing to fans.  He has done more than any player of his generation to connect with the NFL’s future paying customers by giving away souvenirs every time he scores.  Those footballs he gives kids in the stands lead to lifetime memories for those who become lifelong season ticket holders of the Panthers fans which keeps the league flourishing in the Carolinas.

He has a Madison Avenue smile and championship talent.  Those are the same qualities that have made Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers icons of sports and pop culture.  They are the ideal pitch men of impeccable character that corporate America loves to have as the face of its brands.  Newton has the chance to join that A-list with a win on Sunday.

But will he?

If Newton wins after a brilliant performance will his narrative be that of a triumphant champion or an egregious self-promoter who comports himself unprofessionally?  Will the hate mail continue to include those who brand him as an embarrassment for not being a stoic signal caller on pro football’s biggest stage?

Being a polarizing figure on the game’s biggest stage is nothing new to the Panthers quarterback though.  He faced the backlash from his transgressions at the University of Florida where he broke into another student’s apartment and stole a laptop computer.  There was the NCAA investigation into whether his father took bribes to try and lure him to another SEC school as he led Auburn, that other school who plays big time college football in Alabama, to a BCS national championship in 2011.

In college there were legitimate reasons to question if there was something sinister behind the central casting grin.  Was he just playing the role to make sure he got an NFL contract?  How long before his social implosion?

However, Newton has answered all the questions about his character and validated himself as an all-around quarterback.  He has been a quality citizen and role model since turning pro.  Newton quietly volunteers on Tuesdays throughout Charlotte during the season and is not above any player in his locker room.  For all the bravado he plays with on the field he is passionate in his community and focused on getting better at his craft off it.

When Cam says that people are intimidated because they’ve never seen an Black quarterback with his skills set, he speaks not only about football but in a larger societal context.  Newton is that unique combination of brilliant athlete and mesmerizing personality who will alienate those who don’t understand that he is not showing off but having fun playing a kid’s game.

Every Black Super Bowl winning quarterback can’t be soft spoken and understated like Doug Williams or Russell Wilson.  Newton may dodge defenders but he can’t escape the polarizing perception of his race this week.