Without a shred of attribution, the Associated Press reported last week that Cam Newton, quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, is "a lightning rod for criticism."
I know, it's supposedly a big plot point heading into Sunday's Super Bowl. I certainly keep reading and hearing about it. But is there data supporting the notion that Newton has more detractors than any other eye-of-the-storm athlete? Where's the evidence?
In this political season, when there's a poll released every three minutes, I'm still waiting for the one where fans choose whether Newton is a) fun and harmless or b) a scourge on society, all because he likes to dance and celebrate when things go his way on the field.
Think the poll would skew negatively? I'm not so sure. I know a few fans who find Newton overly demonstrative and cocky, but I know more who think he is entertaining, even amusing, and mostly just a terrific player. They don't resent him. Many are rooting for him to lead the Panthers over the Denver Broncos Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
My take on Newton falls pretty much along those lines. I'm not necessarily rooting for him Sunday – after dealing with Gary Kubiak when he was with the Ravens in 2014, I would enjoy seeing him hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy – but he's a compelling talent, and if he wants to pretend he's Superman and celebrate when he makes a first down, who cares?
Yes, I know a mother in Tennessee wrote an infamous letter to The Charlotte Observer in November, accusing Newton of not setting a positive example for kids as the Panthers defeated the Tennessee Titans. He showed "egotism, arrogance and poor sportsmanship," she wrote.
But as a New York Times columnist noted, "there was a sustained backlash against her letter." Newton had many supporters who spoke up for him. They outnumbered his critics, it seemed.
I also know Newton takes heat on talk shows and social media whenever he does, well, anything. But frankly, that's about as surprising as the sun coming up. In today's world, every sports and entertainment mega-star takes heat on talk shows and social media whenever they do anything. Who cares?
Sports is an entertainment vehicle these days, and like it or not, the monochrome era of just handing the ball to the ref after a play is long gone. Most fans are used to it.
Yet style still outweighs substance in the conversation about Newton. While his celebrations make news, I seldom hear about his being a force in the Carolina community, a consummate teammate, infectious leader and winner.
In a way, Newton is just another guy for people to have half-baked opinions about for a couple of days, no different from LeBron James, Bryce Harper, various Kardashians or anyone else when they're in the news.
But Newton injected some seriousness into the conversation last week when he said he was "an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."
On that last point, with all due respect, we HAVE seen another quarterback who plays like Newton -- Colin Kaepernick in 2012 when he ran and passed the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl berth opposite the Ravens. He appeared impossible to stop, just as Newton does now, but the Ravens beat him.
As for the fact that Newton is African-American, sadly, there's no doubt he's right and it plays a role in whatever negativity he does generate.
But the success of Kaepernick, Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson illustrate how far African-American quarterbacks have come since Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl triumph in 1988.
At that Super Bowl, a reporter famously asked Williams, "How long have you been a black quarterback?" I was there. In those days, the chatter was about whether African-Americans were intelligent enough to handle the job. Talk about a pitiful debate.
Now, teams commonly have African-Americans under center and at least one has started in each of the past four Super Bowls, this year's included. If Newton wins, the victory will be portrayed not as a racial triumph so much as a valedictory for an exuberant athlete who doesn't care what you think.
It's a long week of hype. You'll hear about him. But with the concussion rate up and a domestic violence scandal still reverberating, I just don't think a guy playing with palpable joy is a big deal, and I'm wondering how many people really disagree with me.