Panthers speak out against 'divisive' flag as Cam Newton visits families

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the same day the Carolina Panthers spoke out in the wake of the Charleston tragedy against the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse, quarterback Cam Newton visited families of the victims.

Newton on Monday went to Charleston, where five days earlier nine people were shot and killed by a 21-year-old gunman at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Newton reached out to Newberry (S.C.) linebacker Rashard Alston to set up the visit with his friend Chris Singleton, a Charleston Southern University baseball player whose mother Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was among those murdered.

Alston posted pictures of Newton's visit on Twitter and Instagram.

Newton's visit came three days after Carolina owner Jerry Richardson donated $10,000 to each of the nine families of the victims to help with funeral costs and other expenses. He also donated $10,000 to the church where the shooting occurred.

On Monday, Richardson made it clear through a team spokesman that the Panthers do not support any "divisive symbols'' such as the Confederate flag.

The statement came after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag.

Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said the team, which holds summer training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., and prides itself on representing North and South Carolina, would not comment on whether the team has asked for the flag to be removed.

Team officials said there are no plans to move training camp out of South Carolina if the flag remains on the statehouse grounds.

But speaking for Richardson, Drummond said: "Our organization prides itself on bringing people together. Divisive symbols and actions should not stand in conflict to progress, healing and the unification of all of our citizens.''

Meanwhile, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who received national acclaim for his poignant comments on the Ferguson riots last year, also weighed in Monday with his thoughts on the Charleston shootings and in particular the Confederate flag.

Watson, who moved to South Carolina as a teenager, said hastily removing the flag from public displays as a reaction to recent events wouldn't get to the heart of the matter -- but rather, "the HEART is the matter" and people need to become more aware of what the flag represents to others.

"If we, like my (high school) friend Frank, finally listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol," Watson wrote in a Facebook post.

Information from ESPN.com's Mike Triplett was used in this report.

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