Leave the man alone?
No, Cam Newton doesn’t want to be left alone. If he did, he wouldn’t comfort people in Charleston, play around in Australia and wander into Food Truck Friday in Charlotte.
Newton – the Panthers’ most important player, and their most highly paid after a recent $103.8 million contract extension – wants to live life.
And to that I say, “Bravo”.
“Every time a person sees me, I just want them to admire my love for life above everything,” Newton said Friday in a 20-minute news conference at Wofford College before the Carolina Panthers’ first practice of training camp. “Yeah, I love playing football. Yeah I love interacting with fans and you guys. But the real winner is that I love life.”
If you have ever been around Newton for any length of time, or even just seen his airplane-arms, “I’m flying” routine before every game, you know that is true. He squeezes the juice out of life. And as long as he’s not endangering others by doing so, I’m fine with that. If you haven’t realized it yet, Newton generally has good sense.
“Walking down the street, you can get hit by a car,” Newton said.
Or, more accurately in his case, driving down a street in Charlotte you can have a scary wreck that could have been way worse.
The most dangerous thing Newton does is play football. So if you want to hold him out of the majority of exhibitions in 2015? I’m all for that – he got hurt in one of those last season. But so far, after four-plus years in Charlotte, I don’t really see anything wrong with what he’s been doing off the field.
A number of fans do, though, and Newton has heard them. He mimicked the complainers Friday, saying: “Cam’s playing flag football? Oh my God, he can do something. Cam’s playing KnockerBall? Oh my God, look at him pulverize people. Cam’s driving fast? Oh my God, slow down, he’s driving again! It’s always something.”
Newton said he doesn’t “live life with any type of regrets.” And his natural tendency to socialize means he often seeks out crowds.
“I’m obviously aware of the status that I hold, but yet I don’t want my stardom to alienate me from the regular public,” he said. “The thing that I really enjoy is going to places that people would never expect that I’m at. ... I don’t want to be that guy that’s untouchable in Charlotte. I enjoy walking to work. I enjoy talking to people along the way. I enjoy sneaking around to Alive After Five. I enjoy going to Food Truck Fridays and the unbelievable restaurants around Charlotte.”
On Newton’s left wrist, he keeps a vivid reminder of his wreck in December. It is a hospital bracelet that reads “Fall Risk.” For awhile in the hospital, Newton had to be supported every time he moved because he was on so much medication that it made him dizzy. A quarterback who is among the most elusive in America couldn’t even stand up straight on his own.
“I don’t wear it in a fashion sense,” Newton said. “I wear it as a reminder that so many people worry about the things we talk about. The negatives, the, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to do this. Oh man it’s too hot outside. I’m going to get sunburnt.’ Not just appreciating that the sun’s out.”
That’s a pretty good definition for Newton’s outlook. When the sun is out, he doesn’t worry about sunburn, or skin cancer, or anything else. He embraces it.
That’s why it was so disconcerting when Newton was pouty – a regular occurrence after losses during his rookie season in 2011. Newton lights up a locker room when he’s at his best. When he has sulked in the past, everything in the Panthers’ locker room feels heavy.
Entering his fifth season as the quarterback of a Panthers team that has made the playoffs two years in a row, Newton handles losses better now and better understands the idea of leadership in good times and bad. He’s more comfortable in his own skin, and he was already pretty comfortable in it to begin with.
So I’m not worried about him off the field. I worry more about him on it.
I wonder if his penchant for high throws will ever be curbed. Or if his high-risk running style will cause another injury. Of if he can really take the Panthers to the Super Bowl – they think he can, or they never would have given him all that money.
All those are legitimate questions, and ones Newton will try to answer again this season. In the meantime, let the man skip the sunscreen.
For now, in Newton’s life, the sun shines brightly. It’s no sin to enjoy that.