Jerry Richardson brought the NFL to the Carolinas when most salaried experts thought league owners would give St. Louis or Baltimore an expansion franchise to make up for a recently moved team. The former Hardee’s co-founder and food service magnate brought Sam Mills, Kevin Greene, Bank of America Stadium, Steve Smith, Julius Peppers, Sir Purr, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, two Super Bowl appearances and football joy.
Richardson apparently also brought torment to women who worked for the Panthers. Allegations surfaced in December when Sports Illustrated reported that four former team employees had received “significant” settlements after complaining of verbal and/or physical sexual harassment by Richardson. The 81-year-old owner announced Dec. 17 he was selling but has yet to comment on anything.
The NFL jumped right in, hiring prestigious independent investigator Mary Jo White.
But a former Panthers employee said in the latest issue of SI that the NFL has told her attorney it cannot protect her from a non-disclosure agreement signed with the Panthers as part of her settlement with the team.
Barney Fife’s North Carolina investigations were better.
The anonymous woman’s SI reveal comes with hand-written notes from Richardson, including this one:
… “you did not answer my questions — Do you think of me as:
1. your grandfather
2. your second father
3. your second husband
4. your friend
5. your boyfriend
6. or something else
I regret I have never been able to give you pleasure”
Those hand-written notes
There are statues of Richardson outside the stadium in Charlotte and at Wofford, where the Panthers hold training camp and where Richardson has contributed mightily to his alma mater (he was a Wofford wide receiver before a two-year NFL career with the Baltimore Colts).
The Bank of America statue features Richardson standing between a pair of statues of growling panthers. It’s pretty cool: the founder is holding a football, reaching out as if to hand it to a passing fan.
The Wofford statue is a dapper Richardson in mid-stroll, as if walking over to take in a July scrimmage.
What to do with these statues if the NFL investigation finds Richardson guilty of serial harassment?
Or, worse, Richardson successfully impedes the probe with his non-disclosure tactic or the NFL takes a knee in an attempt to run out the clock on public interest?
Remove the statues?
Leave them up?
Use them as scarecrows in soybean fields, one on each side of the Carolinas border?
Or something else?
If allegations of extensive harassment are confirmed, this might work best: the statues can stay or go but attach new plaques that tell the whole story, all about football glory and a sudden downfall, complete with a bronze copy of some of Richardson’s hand-written notes.
Post-Harvey Weinstein NFL
Richardson is not charged with any crimes.
Maybe he’s just a harmless old codger who playfully hit on a few women at the office.
Don’t like the boss asking you to get your nails done? Find another job and let HR know on the way out, right?
Isn’t being forced to sell an NFL team and suffer public humiliation enough punishment?
No to all of that; this is the 21st century.
It shouldn’t have worked that way in the 20th century, either, before #MeToo awareness took off with allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The initial SI report also included an allegation that Richardson directed a vulgar racial slur at a black scout no longer with the team.
The Carolina Panthers can’t get a new owner soon enough. Ideally it’s 54-year-old Charleston billionaire Ben Navarro, best known around here as a tennis buff who has funded the Meeting Street Schools public-private partnership.
A woman gaining approval as new Panthers majority owner is probably too much to ask from the NFL boys club.
But the Jerry Richardson legacy will live on, all the positives and hopefully a plaque that might encourage someone’s sister, daughter, mother or wife to come forward at their workplace.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff