CHARLOTTE - A diverse group of business leaders descended on Bank of America Stadium on Monday afternoon, most decked out in traditional business attire for the quarterly investors meeting of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA).
Special guest Cam Newton dressed to impress as well – with a tamer version of the attire he's known for in postgame press conferences.
"Coming to this event today, I had to kind of nuke it down a little bit. I didn't want to expose you guys to all this drip and sauce," Newton said. "I tried to keep it simple. But at the end of the day, it's still something that allows expression."
Individual expression is important to Newton and to the CRBA, but both the quarterback and the organization also are interested in the triumph of the greater good. CRBA chairman Jesse Cureton's theme for the organization in 2019 is "One Charlotte," so it resonated when Newton discussed his "Un1ted as 1" initiative with the group.
After Panthers president Tom Glick shared that 2019 will be an "exciting year" for the franchise and Cureton shared that Panthers owner David Tepper – in attendance Monday – had agreed to be an honorary chair for the group's visit to Tepper's hometown of Pittsburgh, Newton took his customary seat on center stage.
Sonja Grant, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School's Foundation – the fundraising arm of Charlotte area schools – helped take Newton through an explanation of his Un1ted as 1 program sponsored by the Cam Newton Foundation.
Recently, for the second consecutive year, Un1ted as 1 brought together area middle school students for a two-day workshop focused on "embracing diversity and igniting social change together."
Newton was inspired to start the program by the lack of diversity he experienced before college and that it made things difficult for him at times as a young adult.
"I was just worried about gummy bears and cartoons and Pokémon cards," Newton said when asked if he had any thoughts about diversity when he was in middle school. He recounted how in the course of a discussion in a sociology class at Auburn, he realized he didn't regularly live around ethnic diversity until the age of 17.
On the football field, that late start made an already tough task tougher still when he tried to command an NFL huddle for the first time at the age of 22.
"Growing up in Atlanta, I didn't have any diversity as I grew up. But as I grew up, I realized how important diversity was," Newton said. "I come into the NFL at 21, 22 years old, and I'm thrust into a position where quarterback is the unanimous leader – whether you want to be or not. At that particular point in my life, I wasn't ready to be the face of a franchise, but I was forced to be – coming into a huddle where instead of like in high school or college where you're all the same age, I'm 22 and Jordan Gross is like 34. Steve Smith is like 32.
"Everybody is looking at me, and I'm stuttering saying the plays. Everybody is looking at me like, 'You better get it together. We're trying to win yesterday.' That pressure became overwhelming at times."
But Newton learned to navigate it as an adult, and now he's helping others much younger do much the same in the arena of life. Newton has become a fixture in Charlotte, living in a diverse part of uptown for the better part of eight years now. The area has grown economically thanks in part to the CBRA, and Newton has tried to help it grow together in other ways through events like his annual "Kicking It With Cam!" kickball tournament that will be held at Bank of America Stadium for the first time May 10.
"I've been here eight years now, seeing this city grow and get its own pulse, getting its own uniqueness about it. It's one of the most, if not the most community-oriented city," Newton said. "I love that.
"'Kicking it with Cam' is just another opportunity for me to open my arms to Charlotte just as Charlotte has opened her arms to me."
View photos of quarterback Cam Newton sharing his perspective at a Charlotte Regional Business Alliance meeting hosted by the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.