SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Cam Newton glances down at the faded yellow hospital bracelet on his left wrist, twirls it around with his fingers and contemplates how much his view of life has changed since an automobile accident last December.
The Carolina Panthers’ fifth-year quarterback escaped the crash with two minor fractures in his lower back despite flipping his truck near a highway overpass after being hit by another car. He missed only one football game, but the memory of that wreck has impacted him.
He wears the bracelet as a reminder to live life to its fullest — and enjoy the journey.
“I want to make the most of things and appreciate the blessing that I have on any day,” Newton said Friday before Carolina’s first training camp practice at Wofford College.
Newton isn’t just talk.
Since the nasty-looking crash Dec. 9 a couple of blocks from the team’s stadium, the 26-year-old Newton has been more visible than ever in public — even after signing a five-year, $103 million contract.
He’s travelled Down Under to learn how the Australians play football, attended the Preakness Stakes and visited with grieving family members of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
He’s been a regular fixture at his annual 7-on-7 high school football tournaments and has been photographed at bars and restaurants mingling with the general public in Charlotte and his hometown of Atlanta. He even walks to work sometimes.
Some things Newton has done have caused fans to get in an uproar, like when an Instagram video surfaced of him running a 10-yard out-route — at less than full speed — during a flag football game.
Newton playfully smiles at the concern.
He is not about to stop living or being active following an automobile accident that should have resulted in death.
“It’s like ‘Cam is playing flag football, oh my God, he can (injure) something,’” Newton said. “Or ‘Cam is playing knockerball. Oh my God, look at him pulverize people.’ Or ‘Cam is driving fast. Oh my God, he needs to slow down. He’s driving again.’ It’s always something.”
Newton is, by nature, an outward-going, athletic person.
He enjoys interacting with people, particularly kids.
So he vows not to live his life in a bubble, even though there are few places the chiseled 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton can go where he’s not immediately recognized.
“Walking down the street you can get hit by a car,” Newton said. “I don’t live life with any type of regrets. I think when you start playing not to get hurt with anything that is 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 regular public. … I don’t want to be that guy that is untouchable in Charlotte.”
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t believe Newton has put himself in any real danger.
“He’s a smart guy,” Gettleman said.
One of the reasons Newton has been more active this offseason is because he’s healthy. He couldn’t do anything athletic last year following ankle surgery.
“This is probably the best I’ve felt in a long time — and that is saying a lot,” Newton said.
Newton led the Panthers to a second straight NFC South title last year, but it wasn’t easy. Aside from the ankle and back problems, he also fractured his ribs in a preseason game that caused him to miss the team’s regular season opener against Tampa Bay, snapping a string of 48 straight starts.
The Panthers believe a healthy Newton is on the verge of leading them to a Super Bowl.
“The maturation process he has gone through and the investment he makes is real,” Gettleman said. “People don’t know this but Cam is here on (days off) well into the evening. He understands the process of being a professional quarterback. He’s made the strides that excite us and we feel very strongly about the kid.”
Regardless of what happens this season, Newton has vowed to enjoy the journey.
He knows all too well it can be taken away in an instant. All he has to do is glance down at his left wrist.
“Every time a person sees me I just want them to admire my love for life above everything,” Newton said. “Yeah, I love playing football. I love interacting with fans. But the real winner is that I love life. I wake up in the morning with a lot of honey in my tea, lemon and lime, trying to make it as sweet as it can be.”