CHARLOTTE – Shortly after Cam Newton walked out of his postgame press conference Sunday night, he was summoned to Jerry Richardson's office. There Newton and the rest of Carolina's captains were told by the only owner in Panthers history that he was planning to sell the team.
"I didn't approve of it," Newton recalled Wednesday.
"I left disgruntled because of that, meaning that this is the person that has enlightened me on so many different things on the field as well as off. And for him to kind of be ejected from my life on the sports side, I don't even know how to handle that."
Of all the players on the Panthers' roster, few may feel as indebted to Richardson as Newton, who seven years ago was embroiled in a scandal that dominated the college football season. The NCAA eventually found no major violations by an Auburn program that had allegedly paid for Newton's services. But that was after the Panthers used their No. 1 overall pick on Newton in the 2011 draft, a decision cleared and encouraged by Richardson, who had long avoided employing players with a controversial past.
Now with the NFL investigating allegations of workplace misconduct by Richardson, it's Newton who wants to wait for more information before forming a new opinion.
"I take sexual assault extremely serious. But allegations? That's a different thing," he said. "Having a person of influence, a person with so much responsibility, you always are set to a higher standard. No doubt about it. But in this day and time, it's almost you're automatically guilty until proven innocent. Rather in the rights of the judicial system, you're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.
"I basically almost got suspended just off an allegation. So that's how I feel about it. Not comparing apples to apples, but it's still something that somebody said, and when I went through my allegations, it was all false."
With storm clouds circling, it's fair to wonder if off-the-field questions will affect play on it by those closest to the 81-year-old owner. But for what it's worth, this is a group that's dealt with its fair share of "distractions." And in a tumultuous time like this, that experience could come in handy as the Panthers close in on a playoff berth.
"I've heard an analogy in one of our meetings: The calmest part of a tornado is right in the middle of it," Newton said. "We're trying to have a great attitude that's contagious professionally that people can leech from and say, 'Man, look how Cam's preparing. Look how Julius is preparing. Look how Luke's preparing – he's not letting these things get to him.'"
In the next few months, speculation will run rampant about the future of the franchise. Celebrities will offer to buy the team; some will stoke fears that the club may leave town; media outlets will enjoy the clicks. But with that future far from being decided, about the only thing guys like Newton can do in the present is focus on football and encourage the fan base to help make the idea of relocation unappealing for the next owner.
"Of course I want it to stay in Charlotte. It should stay in Charlotte, and from the things I'm hearing, it will stay in Charlotte," Newton said. "I'm not nervous about it moving. I've seen situations like this in the past where teams have moved, but I believe we get the best of both worlds. We're probably one of the few sports teams that gets represented by two different states."
Right now, those states are represented on the field by a 10-4 team that's playing its best at the ideal time. So as a "tornado swirls" in one direction, Newton has an opportunity to do something special in another.
"We had a rainy day outside today but a great practice," Newton said. "Effort was up, energy was high and people were getting the job done rather than looking at it through a pessimistic approach and saying, 'It's raining, it's cold. I really don't want to be out here. I can't really stretch right now because I can't get on the ground.'
"There are so many ways to look at it, and we make sure that we're attracting great energy and great vibes when times like this do happen. And who is to say nothing else will come up? I'm knocking on wood saying that, but we expect our team to be focused and steadfast through the given obstacle."