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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Time Out For Sports: Cam Newton Tribute, NASCAR E-Sports, Michael Jordan Documentary

Carolina Panthers

Even though sports on all levels are on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, there are quite a few developments in the sports world to talk about. NASCAR is taking a new approach to racing, there is the NFL draft. And on the local scene, fans are still reacting to the Carolina Panthers parting ways with longtime quarterback Cam Newton. One of them is Charlotte rapper Cutty Cutright. Cutright wrote for Newton to show his respect for the quarterback whose accolades include NFL MVP and the first rookie to pass for 400 yards in his first game as a pro player.

Joining "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to discuss this and more is Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer. 

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi Langston. 

Langston Wertz: Hi Gwen. How are you?

Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Credit Langston Wertz
Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.

Glenn: I’m good. So, Langston, what do you think about that song and what are the reactions you’re hearing from fans out there about Newton, the former face of the franchise?

Wertz: Well, I love the song. Cam is definitely a polarizing figure in Charlotte. I mean, there are a lot of people that loved him. And there are a lot of people that didn't love him. It was a combination of his style, his mouth, how he played, a combination of all those things. But, you know, for me, I think he's the best Carolina Panther we've ever had. 

Glenn: And I'm sure the chatter is going to go on for a while?

Wertz: Yes, it will.

Glenn: And Langston as for the team, I understand that owner David Tepper has purchased land for the future headquarters site. That's a big development. 

Wertz: Yeah, yeah. They paid $16 million for about 240 acres just off I-77. The site is not currently in Rock Hill, but Rock Hill is going to annex the site. They offered the best $115 million in incentives. And the Panthers are going to pay only 4% property tax instead of the usual 6% property tax. And even that 4% is going to be paid by the team as a fee to the city and not as a tax.

And the majority of that fee will be used for development around the site. So what they're going to get is a massive entertainment thing around the practice facility. And you're also going to have a lot of millionaires living in or around Rock Hill. And they've also promised them no state income taxes for 15 years. So it's a pretty good deal for all parties involved. And it keeps the Panthers situated in and around Charlotte for at least the next 15 years.

Glenn: Okay, we'll see if that happens. The 2020, NFL draft is scheduled to proceed with a few adjustments due to the social distancing guidelines. How are the Panthers looking in terms of draft picks?

Wertz: Well, they've got seven picks, a top ten pick this year. They got a top 40 pick in the second round. And a top 70 pick in the third round. They have a chance to really improve the team. 

Glenn: Well, let's move to NASCAR again, with live sports on hiatus leagues are getting a bit creative with how to entertain the fans. And NASCAR has started replacing canceled races with something called e-sports featuring pro drivers. How does that work? 

Wertz: Basically, it’s just racers going against each other on video games. The NBA started doing it recently as well. The ratings haven't been horrible. It's been kind of fun, but it's also got really real. Just this past weekend, Bubba Wallace wrecked his virtual car in lap 11 of 150 and he quit. He got mad and turned the game off. He said, 'y'all have a good one, I quit' and this is why I don't take this seriously. And one of his sponsors said, 'you know what? We want our drivers to take things seriously.' So he lost a sponsor over this thing. E-racing can get serious.

Glenn: Oh wow. On to professional basketball. There won’t be any NBA Finals games. And ESPN was supposed to air the highly anticipated documentary "The Last Dance," a 10-part series examining Michael Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls immediately after the finals game and I understand that a social media campaign started calling for it to air soon. What do you know about that? 

Wertz: Well, when we were looking at sports ending in the beginning of this pandemic, I went on Twitter myself and said, you know, ESPN you got this special that’s supposed to come out in June. How about moving it up? So we have something to watch. Not saying I was the genesis of it, but a lot of people were saying the same thing because they just want some type of original programming to watch.

So, I guess they've moved up production, or they've gotten close enough where they moved it up to April 19. They're actually going to air in two parts each Sunday for five Sundays. So for a lot of people of today's times who think LeBron and Kobe and Steph Curry are the best players, they'll get a chance to see who was truly the best player of all time, Michael Jordan.

Glenn: Yeah, it sounds like it will be a good one. Langston, we can't forget about high school sports and all this uncertainty facing the sports community. You've said high school players are facing their biggest summer for recruitment and potentially won't be seen at all. How damaging is that to their chances to play at the collegiate level? 

Wertz: For a guy who is currently a senior or girl and you haven't signed with a college, a lot of experts actually suggest that you go to a prep school, or post-grad somewhere because it's just really hard for colleges to sign people they can’t see and touch. Some kids won't get scholarships that otherwise might have.

Glenn: A lot of changes due to the pandemic. 

Wertz: Yes, absolutely. 

Glenn: Langston, thanks for talking with us today.

Wertz: Absolutely.

Glenn: Langston Wertz Jr. is a longtime sportswriter for The Charlotte Observer. 

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.