Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising forces who are creating history before our very eyes. A dual-threat playmaker, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton led his team to a 15-1 regular-season record on 45 total touchdowns—all while dabbing in the face of haters—and is one win away from becoming the first QB in NFL history to win a Heisman Trophy, college football title, NFL MVP award and Super Bowl.

Since being drafted with the No. 1 pick in 2011, the 26-year-old Atlanta native has carved a space out for himself among the NFL elite—and, more importantly, at a position traditionally dominated by white players. Unlike his Super Bowl counterpart Peyton Manning, your archetypal pocket passer, Newton challenges defenses with his legs and his arm as a hyper-athletic running quarterback. In a league that doubts QBs who dare go mobile, Newton is a square peg who doesn't fit the round hole of conventional playmaking. And he has proven to critics time and time again that he remains unstoppable. 

Newton unapologetically celebrates his own brilliance. His in-your-face end zone dancing and obvious disinterest in being liked by the media have sparked a national debate: is Cam Newton genuinely a poor role model, or is there a double standard for successful black athletes? The public continued to question his touchdown celebrations and pass judgment on his personal life, while similar behavior from his white counterparts either went unnoticed or was glossed over. What was deemed "unprofessional" for Newton was, more often than not, judged with frustratingly different standards for the league's top white players.

Yet Newton has handled the backlash and scrutiny with flair and authenticity. He's still dabbing. He's still smiling. He's still putting smiles on kids' faces. And regardless of the outcome of Super Bowl 50, Newton has defied what is expected—and not expected—of him.