Quarterback Cam Newton has come under fire this season as he and the Carolina Panthers have struggled. Hall of Famer Warren Moon says the second-year player is getting too much of the blame and claims there's a troubling racial undertone to the criticism.
"I think a lot of this is because so many people want to say 'I told you so' about him but couldn't because he was so good last year," Moon told Yahoo! Sports. "I think people are overreacting. How can he be a bust? He just had one of the great years a rookie has ever had, and now he can't play? Come on."
Newton has been a target of particular criticism for the visible frustration he sometimes shows during games and in his postgame news conferences. Panthers receiver Steve Smith even publicly criticized Newton for sulking on the sidelines during Carolina's lopsided loss to the Giants in Week 3.
Moon, however, said he is especially concerned because when Newton's demeanor is compared to that of other quarterbacks, it's often to other black quarterbacks.
"I heard somebody compare him to Vince Young. It's the same old crap -- it's always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it," Moon told the website.
"If you want to compare him to someone because of his demeanor, compare him to Jay Cutler. There are a lot of guys who whine and moan. Cam's not biting anybody's head off or pushing his linemen (as the Bears quarterback did during a Week 2 loss to the Panthers). He's just disgruntled, and not handling losing well, because, think about it, he basically didn't lose in college," Moon continued.
"I don't think Cam's as bad as Cutler, because Cutler looks like he doesn't give a damn sometimes, or he's yelling and cussing at someone. Cam, he just looks down when they're losing."
Moon, in an interview with ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Wednesday, clarified his comments.
"I think race is a little bit strong. I think stereotype is a little bit more of what I was talking about," Moon told ESPN. "If we're in a day and age when all quarterbacks are supposed to be equal, why can't we start comparing quarterback to quarterback, not just black to black and white to white?
Moon said the quarterback Newton is most comparable to is Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers quarterback doesn't run as well as Newton.
"I would compare those two as far as their gifts," he said.
Newton had a checkered college career before the Panthers made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011. He was reportedly facing possible expulsion from the University of Florida -- he attended the school for two years, playing in one game in the Gators' BCS national championship season of 2008 -- for academic cheating, when he transferred to a junior college in Texas in spring 2009. From there, he signed with Auburn and had an outstanding, Heisman Trophy-winning season and led the Tigers to the national championship.
But Newton's time with Auburn was not without controversy. His eligibility came into question before the 2011 SEC title game, when it was revealed his father and a former Mississippi State player asked MSU for between $120,000 and $180,000 to play for that school out of junior college. Newton was cleared of any wrongdoing by the NCAA.
The Panthers are off to an NFC-worst 1-5 start that triggered the firing of general manager Marty Hurney on Monday. Moon said it's not Newton's fault that Hurney was fired.
"He's not picking the players. He's not playing defense. He's not calling the plays," Moon told the website.
Moon also criticized Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for changing the team's offense in a way that might hinder Newton's development. While Newton played in more of a pro-style offense last season, the Panthers, according to Moon, have switched to more of the read-option, which Newton ran at Auburn, and "it's backfiring."
Newton's quarterback rating ranks 23rd in the league, and there are 27 QBs who have thrown more touchdown passes than he has at this point of the season. Newton has just five touchdown passes -- with six interceptions -- and three rushing scores, one season after throwing for 21 touchdowns and running for 14 more. He is ranked 25th in ESPN's quarterback rankings with a Total QBR of 44.3.
After Sunday's loss, he said he was going to "bring in a suggestion box" to try to find the answers to the Panthers' offensive woes.
Moon told Yahoo! that he plans to talk to Newton to "find out where his mind is."
"He'll fight through it. We're not even at the halfway point of the season yet, and everybody's throwing in the towel," he told the website. "He just doesn't like losing. Is that bad? No, but you can't show it -- not in this era where there's so much television coverage. You can't have a bad moment on the sidelines anymore. But if that's the worst thing he does, he's fine. That's fixable."
In a conference call with Chicago reporters ahead of the Panthers' game this week with the Bears, Newton said he hadn't heard about Moon's comments.
"I haven't heard anything that he's said, but obviously Warren is a person I go to and learn toward for guidance with leadership on the field and off the field," he said. "You know he's an avid person I might go to each and every day. I haven't heard the remarks that he's said but when it come to race and this game, I don't think there is none at all. But I'm just going to continue to do the things that got me up unto this point and just try to focus on trying to win a football game."
As for his critics, Newton said, "I just keep living life."
"I understand I'm not perfect. I'm striving to be great," he said. "Whatever people may think or whatever other people might criticize me on, I take it for what it's worth but continue to try and make myself better each and every opportunity I get."
ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.