A larger percentage of NFL fans believe that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton faces criticism because of his actions on the field than because of his race, according to a survey produced for ESPN by Langer Research Associates and released Wednesday.
Nearly two out of three fans -- 62 percent -- believe that any criticism of Newton is because of his style of play on the field (63 percent of white fans and 38 percent of black fans). Only 14 percent think it's because of his race.
The number of people who think race is part of how Newton is perceived is significantly higher among blacks who responded to the survey -- 34 percent think criticism is racially based, while 38 percent think it's for his flashy style.
Newton, who has talked about race throughout the season, said last week that: "I've said this since day one. I'm an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."
He is the sixth black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl, and this marks the fourth straight year that one of the teams has started a black quarterback. Nonetheless, it has been a continuing line of questioning during media sessions this week.
On Tuesday, Newton told reporters "it's not an issue" when a reporter asked him about the stereotype of black quarterbacks. "It's an issue for you," he said, adding: "I don't even want to touch on the topic of black quarterback, because I think this game is bigger than black, white or even green. So I think we limit ourselves when we just label ourselves just black, this, that and the third."
The survey delved into several other fan perception questions as well. Among them:
Most fans agree that they like it when NFL players celebrate big plays. Overall, 57 percent like the celebrations, compared to 36 percent who don't. However, 85 percent of black respondents said they like celebrations, compared to only 51 percent of white fans. The percentage of fans who like the celebrations steadily declines as respondents' ages increases. A total of 74 percent of fans ages 18-39 like celebrations; over age 65, that number drops to 38 percent.
Newton and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning both are viewed favorably by fans of all races. Manning was viewed favorably by 78 percent of those responding (81 percent of whites, 65 percent of blacks). He was viewed unfavorably by 8 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks. Newton is viewed favorably by 60 percent (67 percent of blacks, 60 percent of whites), with only 14 percent unfavorably. Newton has a much higher percentage of "no opinion" responses than Manning.
Avid fans say Newton is a better quarterback than Manning by a 57 to 39 percent margin; overall, it's a 46-40 split in favor of Manning. Men favor Newton 53 to 40 percent.
A report that performance-enhancing drugs were sent to Manning's home in December hasn't hurt his image -- 90 percent of respondents say it didn't change their impression of him, compared to only 6 percent who say it did.
As for who wins Super Bowl 50, 49 percent think the Broncos will win, with 35 percent favoring Carolina. White fans are more likely to favor the Broncos (49 to 36 percent), while black fans have the Panthers winning by a larger margin (52 to 28 percent).
The survey of 705 adults was conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1. It included 493 who considered themselves pro football fans. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5.5 percent.