The NFL had a few issues to confront, whether it wanted to or not, when the season ended. Unarmed black men, women and children were being gunned down across the country, and players began protesting their deaths. As BLM’s message grew, an opposing narrative was being pushed by the right; those who opposed black deaths were, by default, anti-police.

A clear line was being drawn on the field, and America’s sport began looking a lot like America: divided.

At the same time, Newton was becoming the face of the league. This tall, black, unapologetic figure with the infectious smile was everywhere. And he was brash. Once, he was asked how he felt about players who were mad at him for dabbing after he scored.

His answer: Keep me out of your end zone.

[Cam Newton is on The Root 100 for 2016]

Not to mention, Newton dressed like a flamboyant Leprechaun. The point is, Newton wasn’t toning down the volume. His dress, style of play and position were all on high, and the Good Ol’ Boy League of owners realized they had a huge problem. As black bodies were dropping at the end of police gun barrels and black folks were saying, “Enough is enough,” the Carolina Panthers and the NFL had a scary image in front of them: an outspoken black man whose position might not be on message.

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It was an image that even old Cam Newton tried to explain when asked why he had so many haters.

“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to,” he said.