The cost to attend Cam Newton’s inaugural celebrity kickball tournament on Friday was originally $5, but on second thought the Panthers’ franchise quarterback decided to make it free to the public.
Initially there would be 1,000 tickets, and his foundation eventually opened it up for 2,500 people.
And over the course of the seven-hour event Friday, Newton regularly signed hats, shirts and jerseys for kids or took selfies with the fans at BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte. Seemingly the only people he didn’t sign for were the autograph hounds with their glossy prints or old Sports Illustrated pictures.
This weekend wasn’t about them. For Newton it was about the kids, and it was about showing people that Charlotte is his new home. He’s said it for the better part of the past four years, but his recent contract extension has made it a reality.
“You have some security,” said former Panthers and current Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr., who played 13 seasons in Carolina, at Newton’s kickball event. “You look forward to it, and until you get that second contract you always wonder. Now you get it and you start establishing things and start to do things that are based on longevity and future.”
Newton’s foundation held its kickball event Friday as well as its second annual charity gala on Saturday in Plaza Midwood. Proceeds went back to the foundation, which works with Carolinas Healthcare System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Newton has made it a point to get involved with the Charlotte community since the Panthers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011, but now he has an opportunity to do more. Almost two weeks ago, the Panthers signed Newton to a five-year contract extension worth $103.8 million that runs through 2020.
In talking with those close to Newton as well as former and current players who have received long-term deals, the consensus is Newton will be able to deepen his roots in the city while still having to work just as hard on and off the field.
With Charlotte’s relative youth in professional sports, the city has never had an active superstar play for one of its teams long-term. Newton has a chance to be the first with his new deal.
“The community has accepted me for who I am and what I do,” said Newton, who grew up just outside of Atlanta. “This is my second home, and I love being here.”
Plans off the field
Newton commonly says “to whom much is given, much is required.” His father, Cecil, is a pastor, and he believes Newton has heard the take on Luke 12:48 in his home since he was at least 8 years old.
Newton feels that requirement. It was clear in his earlier seasons when teammates and coaches said he was “pressing too much.” And it seems even clearer away from Bank of America Stadium.
On Friday, Newton met with Jonathan Gouch, a 15-year-old OrthoCarolina patient who has undergone four recent surgeries. He spent time in a suite with Gouch, who wore a Superman-like outfit to meet the player who calls himself Superman.
And when Gouch’s little sister, Elizabeth, asked Newton to draw her a picture, he took her coloring book and drew an upper-body with a ‘C 1’ jersey and his tongue sticking out.
According to a source close to Newton, he plans to be an executive producer for a show that could air on Nickelodeon. The unscripted show would help adolescents find their dreams, from an aspiring Cirque du Soleil performer to a meteorologist.
Former NFL receiver Randy Moss said Friday Newton’s extension is about more than money, though it did make Newton’s family “very, very, very secure.”
Moss, a future Hall of Famer, is from West Virginia and spent his first seven years in Minnesota with the Vikings. Moss said the feelings between the player and organization need to mirror those of the player and the city.
“You have to have a city backing you,” Moss said at the foundation’s kickball event. “Minnesota was good to me. There are 32 teams in the NFL and I can honestly say every team does not have a good city. I think Charlotte is a great city. Minnesota was great to me and I feel kind of the same vibe here.
“I did a preseason (broadcast) game with Fox here last year and just by being in the stadium looking at the fans, the kids, the players, the coaching staff, I think there are some great things going on in Carolina and I think it starts with Cam Newton.”