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Panthers' Ron Rivera speaking out over political and social issues

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ron Rivera believes as the NFL's only Hispanic head coach he has a responsibility to speak out on what's happening on the political scene as well as the league.

The Carolina Panthers coach did just that in an interview with CNNMoney's Ahiza Garcia.

Rivera expressed his opinion on everything from President Donald Trump's comments about Mexicans to race and how it impacts Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.

"People have to understand that whatever the President is trying to do, whatever he is trying to get across, it really is not about what he's saying and all this, but it's about how we react and how we do things,'' Rivera said. "There's a group of people that are trying to make better lives for their families, and that's what it really should be about.

"I think what everybody has to understand more so than anything else is that's what America's foundation is built on. And we can't block people out because of that.''

Rivera opened the interview by explaining his father went from a farmer in Puerto Rico to a chief warrant officer in the United States Army.

The two-time NFL Coach of the Year said he never experienced racism until his family moved to the U.S.

That's when he first was referred to with the word "wetback,'' a term used to describe a Mexican living in the U.S., especially those without official authorization.

"That was the one that got me,'' Rivera said. "I was in the eighth grade. My mom's side of the family was farm workers. I had heard the term before and somebody told me what it meant. So one guy called me that. That was probably the one time that it really made me aware.''

Asked if there is more pressure on players of color to perform at or meet a higher standard in the NFL, Rivera referred to Newton, an African-American quarterback.

"I do think that he feels it, because he wants to be successful,'' Rivera said. "He most certainly at the end of the day does want to present this [image] that you can be successful as an African-American quarterback.

"I struggle with that, because at the end of the day it should be only about your merit.''

Newton made headlines before Super Bowl 50 following his 2015 MVP season when he said, 'I'm an African-American quarterback, that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing they can compare me to.''

Rivera responded at the time by saying he hoped that wasn't the case and that it would be "terrible'' if race was a factor in how people perceived Newton.

"You figure in this time and day and age it would be more about who he is as an athlete and a person more than anything else,'' he said.

Rivera, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984-92, said he never experienced racism in the NFL.

"I felt it in college,'' he said. "It was a guy, he was Anglo, he was white, and he was supposed to be a teammate and he made a couple of comments. And that stuck in my mind.''

Rivera ended the interview by discussing what it means to have others look up to him as the league's only Hispanic head coach.

"I feel that I have to succeed to the highest level I can,'' he said. "I'm at that level now. Once I realized this was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to reach the peak, the pinnacle of what I do. And I have been.

"And I take from this, what I hope people take from this, is you can be whatever you want. It's up to you. You have to put in the work, do the things you're supposed to do. But at the end of the day all you need is an opportunity.''