Cam Newton may have won the NFL’s MVP award last season after guiding the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and a Super Bowl berth, but that didn’t make him immune to the kind of criticism that’s been lobbed in his general direction since the start of his NFL career. In fact, you could argue that Newton’s success led to him facing even more criticism. Between November and January last season, Newton was publicly shamed for everything from dancing in the end zone after scoring touchdowns and being an unmarried father to handing footballs out to little kids and chucking a Seahawks fan’s flag.

We could sit here and argue all day about why Newton was subjected to the levels of criticism that he faced, but most people believe that race played at least a small part in Newton’s frequent character assassination. If a white quarterback had done some of the things Newton was criticized for last season, would he have faced the same wrath of NFL fans? Probably not.

Newton doesn’t necessarily see things that way, though. He’s featured on the cover of the latest issue of GQ and, as part of his cover story, he was asked to talk about what role he thinks race plays in the criticism he faces on a regular basis. His answer? None. Here was the exchange Newton had with GQ writer Zach Baron:

GQ: Do you feel like football fans are racist toward you?

CN: It’s not racism. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.

GQ: So if it’s not that, what is it, do you think?

CN: I’ll let you be the judge. I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like some people have certain beliefs, and I have my own belief, and we can agree to disagree on certain things. But this is what makes sports so amazing, that we can start a discussion around a table, in the newspaper, in the magazines, that will get people’s attention. And that’s what sports does.

GQ: In January, right before the Super Bowl, you said: '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.'

CN: I don’t want this to be about race, because it’s not. It’s not. Like, we’re beyond that. As a nation.

GQ: You really think so?

CN: Yeah. I mean, you bring it to people’s attention. But after that, that’s it.

Baron was quick to point out that there’s a good chance Newton answered his questions the way he did because he didn’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking about race at the time. Newton and Baron had only been talking for about half an hour when the topic of race came up. But as you might imagine, Newton’s comments haven’t gone over very well, especially the part about America being "beyond" race issues. So many people on Twitter are up in arms with regards to what Newton had to say:

You can check out the entire GQ story on Newton here. Outside of discussing race, Newton also talks about overcoming the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 loss, his unique sense of style, and more.