SPARTANBURG, S.C. – As reports recently surfaced about Panthers quarterback Cam Newton taking the field with an Australian Football League team and later a flag football team, some expressed concerns about Newton possibly putting his health in jeopardy.
Newton, on the other hand, was just happy to be healthy to do those things – a sentiment that Panthers fans should share.
"Having the health to do those things was a good thing," Newton said hours before the first practice of training camp. "This is probably the best I've felt in a long time, waking up and being able to run rather than limp.
"For me to be able to run and plant off it fully without thinking twice about it, that makes me feel good."
There were a lot of things Newton couldn't do in 2014, when ankle surgery slowed him throughout the offseason and continued to impact him during the regular season – not to mention a rib fracture suffered in the preseason and broken bones in his back suffered in an automobile accident late in the regular season.
Now fully recovered from it all, Newton took to the streets following what he termed a "boring" offseason in 2014. Newton said he chose his activities wisely but without fear.
"Walking down the street, you could get hit by a car. I don't live life with any type of regrets," Newton said. "When you start playing not to get hurt, that's when those type of things happen. I'm obviously aware of the status that I hold, but I don't want my stardom to alienate me from the public."
At the same time, Newton doesn't want his stardom to define how he's viewed in public. He wants to be visible in the community, but he wants it to be for the person he is rather than for a persona projected upon him.
That was his hope when he paid a surprise visit to people impacted by the Charleston shootings.
"That's just something I wanted to do. It could have happened anywhere, but the fact that it happened in the Carolinas - that's the place where I have the most impact," Newton said. "I just wanted to reach out to show my respects and try to somehow make the situation better.
"I'm a real person. I have passion. I have feelings. I always want to do the right things and shine light on positive things. I didn't necessarily want that to be something that the media knew. There are a lot of things I do where I don't say, 'Hey, make sure you hashtag that I'm here.' "
Newton loves to be social around Charlotte and loves to do it without setting social media ablaze, whether it's sneakily showing up at Food Truck Friday or an after-work concert at the EpiCentre or whether it's walking and talking with his strangers on an uptown stroll.
Newton intends to continue to live life in his adopted home like that, but as training camp drew near, his offseason activities swung squarely toward football. Newton recently spent two weeks in Baltimore quietly building ties with teammates who spent time with him on and off the field in preparation for the most public part of his life.
"I'm all about football now," Newton said, "about just trying to find each and every way to make it to the last rectangle on the field from here on out."