CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton doesn't always say or do the right thing in news conferences. He has been in hot water for his choice of words or behavior more than once this season.
But when the questions Sunday turned from a 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers to allegations of misconduct against Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and whether the quarterback could see his boss taking a step back if the allegations are proven true, Newton said the right thing.
"To be honest with you, it's too early to tell," Newton said. "I'm answering the questions that I really don't know what the factual statements are. I think highly of Mr. Richardson. It just takes only time until the truth comes out."
It might take time for all the facts to come out, time to determine if allegations outlined in a Sports Illustrated article that said the Panthers settled financially with at least four employees regarding Richardson's inappropriate behavior in the workplace are true.
But the future for the organization became clear on Sunday night, when Richardson announced in a letter posted on the team website that he planned to sell the team after the 2017 season.
The decision took away some of the awkwardness players might have faced over the next four to six weeks, depending how long their season lasts, in answering questions about Richardson. It could allow them to keep their focus on the field, which they did well against the Packers.
"We have a lot of guys that understand what our role is here and where we fit in this organization and what we're here to do," Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said when asked how the Panthers (10-4) move forward.
"And that's play football and represent this team as well as we can, on and off the field, and give our fans something to be proud of. As far as everything else that goes on, that kind of falls outside the scope of being a player."
This is a strange time for an organization whose owner until now was held in high regard publicly. None of the players interviewed in the locker room Sunday claimed that he saw the side of Richardson that involved sexual harassment or the use of a racial slur to a former scout, as the SI article detailed.
Olsen, without going into detail, talked about the man who in 2012 flew him and his wife on a private plane to see a specialist in Boston to get the best medical advice for their son, who was born with a heart defect.
"I know about the relationship I have had personally," Olsen said. "And all those [things] have been nothing but positive, nothing but professional and respectful."
Newton called Richardson a father figure, a person he could share his deepest thoughts with.
"I found a place of refuge with Mr. Richardson," he said.
Coach Ron Rivera noted that Richardson could have fired him after his second season, when the Panthers were 7-9 following a 6-10 year in 2011. He said that Richardson helped him get to and from the funeral of his brother, who died of pancreatic cancer on the eve of training camp in 2015.
"The only thing I can speak on is for what he has been there for me," Rivera said.
General manager Marty Hurney, who was fired by Richardson during a 1-5 start in 2012 and rehired on an interim basis just prior to this year's training camp after Dave Gettleman was fired, said, "I have the utmost respect for Mr. Richardson as an owner and a person. From a football perspective, we are focused on trying to make the playoffs, getting the highest seed possible if that happens and thereafter going as deep into the postseason as we possibly can."
Outside linebacker Thomas Davis, 34, wasn't around to talk after Sunday's game. But few players have been closer to Richardson, who convinced Davis to continue to play football after the 2005 first-round pick suffered his third ACL injury on his right knee in 2011. Davis revealed prior to the 2016 season, less than six months after Carolina lost to Denver in Super Bowl 50, that his goal was to "put a Super Bowl ring on Mr. Richardson's finger."
"That was a promise I made to him, and I'm trying to stay true to that promise," Davis said at the time. "That's one of the reasons why I'm so focused on doing everything that's within my power, day in and day out, to make sure we're a good football team."
That will be the focus moving forward -- not so much to win a Super Bowl for Richardson but to remain a good football team.
The Panthers are tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South and have a chance to win the division if they beat Tampa Bay and Atlanta and the Saints lose one of their final two games. The Panthers are assured of a playoff spot if they beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Everything on the field is in front of them, even if everything off the field is up in the air. Again, it could make for awkward moments in the weeks to come, as there typically are when a person you think you know well is accused of something that doesn't seem possible.
But much of the awkwardness and confusion were taken away when Richardson announced his plans to sell. At least there is certainty about that part of the equation.
"For me, I hope things don't alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson," Newton said as he continued to say the right things following a four-touchdown game in which he did all the right things. "For me, I do know he's given me things I know I'll ever be appreciative for."