SBD/December 18, 2017/Franchises

Jerry Richardson Announces Plans To Sell NFL Panthers After Harassment Allegations

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Richardson’s statement released by the team did not address allegations of his misconduct
Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson made an "absolute bombshell of an announcement" last night when he announced plans to "put the team up for sale" at the conclusion of the '17 NFL season, according to a front-page piece by Rodrigue, Person & Harrison of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The announcement came just hours after an SI report "outlined allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson toward former Panthers employees." Richardson in a statement said, "I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership. Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played. I hope everyone in this organization will be firmly focused on just one mission: To play and win the Super Bowl." Richardson’s statement "did not address the allegations of misconduct." The SI report was released prior to yesterday's Packers-Panthers game and "detailed the alleged 'significant' monetary settlements with at least four" former team employees as a result of "inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by Richardson." The conduct included "sexually suggestive language and behavior, and on at least one occasion directing a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout." SI said that the settlements "featured non-disclosure agreements forbidding the parties from discussing the matters." It is "unclear what Richardson’s announcement will mean for the NFL’s investigation into the misconduct allegations." By making the announcement when he did, Richardson "could avoid the possibility of being forced out by the NFL depending on what its investigation uncovers." Sources said that players were "not alerted to the announcement of the sale ahead of time." Panthers interim GM Marty Hurney said that he "found out about Richardson’s intent to sell after the game" last night. He said Richardson "has my utmost respect as an owner and as a person." Hurney: "He has the respect of the employees and players in the organization" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). 

TARNISHED IMAGE
: SI.com's Wertheim & Bernstein noted at least four former Panthers employees "received significant settlements from Richardson or from the team in exchange for what amounted to a vow of silence." Richardson's "aura, mannerisms and values ring through the Panthers’ headquarters." Though the "antebellum echoes trouble some African-American employees, Richardson is referred to by all simply as 'Mister,' no surname required." Wertheim & Bernstein noted multiple former female employees recount that Richardson's behavior "began to feel like a violation when he spoke of their bodies." Sources said that Richardson gave "back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine" (SI.com, 12/17). In Charlotte, Person & Rothacker write it is "not clear whether any of the limited partners were aware of the settlements" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18).

Goodell may not be forced to make a league precedent after Richardson's decision
SAVING FACE?
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton notes the decision to sell the team is a "fast decision" that "caps a whirlwind 72 hours" for Richardson. He is the first owner of a major American sports franchise to "face this type of scrutiny since the heightened spotlight on sexual harassment and workplace conduct in recent months." His "rapid decision to sell the team could be seen as a major relief for the NFL." By not putting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or other owners in a position where his "hand may have been forced, Richardson may save the league from creating any precedent at all" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/18). In N.Y., Ken Belson writes Richardson’s decision to sell the team "represented a swift fall for a man who at times has been among the NFL’s most powerful owners." Richardson, who "spoke with Goodell" yesterday, continues to have "many allies among his fellow owners." Several of Richardson’s employees "came to his defense" yesterday. Belson: "It’s somewhat surprising that the NFL -- known for its deliberate approach to any major change -- and Richardson reacted so quickly and so dramatically to allegations of workplace misconduct" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/18). The OBSERVER's Person & Rothacker note Richardson was at the Panthers’ game yesterday against the Packers, "seated in the owner’s box with his wife, Rosalind, at his side." Following the Panthers’ victory, players "chose their words cautiously when asked about the allegations" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg wrote, "A strange year for the Panthers veered into far more perilous territory" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/17).

WEIGHING IN
: THE MMQB's Peter King reports NFL officials will meet in N.Y. today to "plot the league’s course on Richardson," and the message "should come back thusly: We have to seek the truth on one of our own." King: "How can players trust the league to investigate players if it drops the ball on serious charges against one of its owners?" Richardson should "take the punishment an owner would have coming ... even if that punishment comes after he sells." Other owners, execs and likely even players "will have microscopes on them now." Richardson's legacy will "take time to fathom" (SI.com, 12/18). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio noted with Richardson's decision to sell the team, the league will "likely be standing down" and the calls for an investigation "will not proceed" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson writes putting the up teal for sale is "fortunate for the NFL because the agony of dragging out a lengthy, ugly probe into an owner might have invited more than the league’s flawed investigative process could have handled." Robinson: "The last thing in the world that this billionaire fraternity wants is to have one of its own dissected." Particularly after lavishing that big fat extension on Goodell, who would have had to stand in judgement." Richardson is "likely doing a solid for not only the league office and investigative arm -- he’s also protecting other owners from a judgement on a very lucrative tool in business: Non-disclosure agreements" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/18). SI.com's Michael McCann wrote under the header, "Will Jerry Richardson Avoid The NFL Investigation By Selling The Panthers? Not Quite" (SI.com, 12/17). USA TODAY's Mike Jones writes Richardson's decision is "stunning news." NFL owners "don't just sell their team at the drop of a hat." However, sexual harassment "outweighs any good he's done." The NFL has an "image problem as is, and it couldn’t tolerate an owner that’s guilty of the behavior that Richardson is accused of." Jones: "You can’t help but wonder, however, who’s next" (USA TODAY, 12/18).

Greg Olsen said he has had nothing but "positive" interactions with Richardson
LOCKER ROOM REAX
: Panthers TE Greg Olsen said of Richardson, "I know about the relationship I’ve had and the interactions I’ve had personally, and all of those have been nothing but positive and nothing but professional and respectful." Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn: "Mr. Richardson has always been a nice man to me." Panthers QB Cam Newton: "When you see so many people getting picked out because of things that they’ve done in the past. I don’t take that lightly. I was just telling you my personal experience with Mr. Richardson and how he has had such a father-like role to a lot of players in that locker room" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/18). Newton: "I really haven’t dug into the investigation, or the story, but personally from me, (Richardson has) given me an opportunity to make a big impact for my family" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). SI.com's Jonathan Jones wrote, "It would be unfair to fully critique these players’ comments, since the story broke minutes before kickoff and they were being asked about it shortly after the game ended." Jones: "No one in the locker room had time to read the story, and only a few whom I spoke with even had a Cliffs Notes version of it by the time they exited." Some players "removed themselves from the situation altogether" (SI.com, 12/17). ESPN.com's David Newton wrote the "future for the organization became clear" last night with Richardson's announcement. 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." This is a "strange time for an organization whose owner until now was held in high regard publicly" (ESPN.com, 12/17).

HARD TO HEAR: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said that the situation surrounding Richardson's decision to sell the Panthers "saddened him." Jones: "I'm very sad. Jerry is one of the really, really, really outstanding men of football that I've ever met, and I really admire him. I know that he made it the old-fashioned way. He worked for it. He took what he made in a short time in pro football and turned it into a great business and then used that to get the Carolina franchise. So he's a great story." He added, "I'm really sad. I want all of those kind of men we can have in the National Football League" (AP, 12/18).

WON'T SOON FORGET
: SI.com's Jones wrote Richardson "is a man consumed by his legacy," but that legacy was "tarnished in the span of a weekend." Richardson’s statement that he will sell the team is another "attempt to memorialize the legacy the 81-year-old wishes to leave even as allegations stare him in the face publicly" (SI.com, 12/17). In Greensboro, Ed Hardin writes yesterday was a "gut-wrenching day" that will "live in infamy" in the state of North Carolina. Hardin: "The man who promised to bring a model sports franchise built on character and moral values to the Carolinas, will walk away as a man revealed to be flawed beyond comprehension" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 12/18).
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