As the Carolina Panthers’ win totals have increased over the past few seasons, so too have the offseason demands on players’ time.
Everyone likes to be associated with a winner. And though the Panthers fell short in Super Bowl 50, that hasn’t stopped the stream of requests for players to appear at charity events, sponsor meet-and-greets and various autograph signings.
“Our schedules and requests and things that come our way have definitely grown over the years since when I first got here,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “And then of course this past season with our team’s success and the notoriety we received as an organization, it definitely increased significantly.”
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Olsen was speaking Wednesday from pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he’ll drive the pace car Saturday for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
It’s the latest stop in what has been a busy offseason for Olsen, who was a guest analyst for the NFL Network during the combine in February, played in the pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament two weeks ago and last week made an appearance at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Huntington, W.Va., as part of his affiliation with Visa.
Olsen said he wanted to try new experiences during the offseason and joked that his family would struggle if it relied on him to make his livelihood hitting a golf ball or driving a race car.
But Olsen said it’s a fine line between enjoying what he called the fruits of his labor and spreading yourself too thin.
“The one thing I’ll never do is I’ll never jeopardize my preparation. I’ll never jeopardize any time or energy or efforts that need to be put into my preparation to play football,” Olsen said after a few laps around the track in the Toyota Camry pace car.
“At the end of the day I’m a football player. I’m paid to be prepared and people rely on me to get a job done, and I will never jeopardize that or sacrifice any efforts toward that goal.”
Racing of another sort
Olsen has also stayed active with his HEARTest Yard Fund, which he established when his son TJ was born in 2012 with a heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Olsen’s charity will host its first 5K race in Charlotte on Saturday to benefit the Levine Children’s Hospital.
“My family obviously takes up a lot of my time and that’s by choice,” Olsen said. “It’s incredible being a father and watching three young kids continue to grow, with my wife and I. But there is also time to enjoy yourself.”
Former driver and current NASCAR official Brett Bodine said in the sponsor-driven sport of racing, drivers have their sponsor commitments written into their contracts, with some even specifying how far a driver has to travel from the race site for an event.
But Bodine said he never looked at the sponsor obligations as drudgery.
“As a driver I felt if was my obligation to promote the sport as much as I could in a positive way,” he said.
Appreciate the cool things
Olsen said he and his wife, Kara, tell their three young children to be thankful for all the cool things his job allows them to do. For Olsen on Wednesday that meant getting certified to lead the field of 20 drivers around the track for the green flag Saturday night.
Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis drove the pace car for the all-star race the past two years. For Davis’ certification last year, he put on a fire suit before getting a ride-along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 160 mph.
Olsen wore street clothes for his ride with Sprint Cup driver Matt DiBenedetto, who got the Camry up to about 127 mph. The two had a scare on their first lap when they whipped around Turn 2 to find a gate open along the back straightaway.
After waiting on pit road for the track to clear, DiBenedetto took Olsen back out and did his best to give him a thrill.
“That’s way more stressful than I thought it would be,” Olsen said after the ride. “He’s talking, giving me pointers, he’s got one hand on the wheel.”
Olsen took a much more cautious approach when he was behind the wheel, joking that he planned to stay around 45 mph. But he said it was a fun day in what has been a fun – if sometimes hectic – offseason.
“Something I’ve enjoyed is trying my hand at a lot of things that are outside of my comfort zone and things that I didn’t necessarily grow up doing or that I don’t do very often,” he said. “I think that’s fun. It’s a challenge, continue to expand your horizons, look at the big picture. There’s so many other things out there besides the Panthers and football.”