Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team. Richardson, the team's only owner in its 23 seasons, made the announcement following Sunday's 31-24 win over the Packers - and on the same day that Sports Illustrated reported that at least four ex-employees received “significant monetary settlements,” stemming from inappropriate comments and behavior by Richardson.
"I believe it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership," Richardson said in his prepared statement. "Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season."
Richardson said no inquiries will be considered until after the last game. His statement made no reference to the Sports Illustrated story from earlier in the day.
In that report, Richardson is accused of using sexually suggestive language directed toward multiple female employees. Sometimes, after inviting them to lunch, Richardson would allegedly insist on fastening their seatbelts in the car and reach across the women to fasten the belt. Sports Illustrated reported that multiple female employees said Richardson had asked them if he could shave their legs.
The publication says it’s been investigating allegations against Richardson for several weeks. Former employees who left the team with financial settlements had non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from talking about Richardson’s alleged behavior, according to SI.
Sports Illustrated reports that sources also said that Richardson once directed a racial slur at a Panthers scout who is African-American. The employee reportedly left the team earlier this year with a confidential settlement.
Panthers are only tied to Charlotte through June 2019
As for any potential buyers, Richardson said in his statement no inquiries will be considered until after the last game. But some people have already expressed interest. Rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs tweeted that he would like to buy the Panthers and Golden State Warrior star Stephen Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, responded “I want in.”
The Panthers are tied to Charlotte through June 2019. The city of Charlotte and the Panthers reached an agreement on improvements for the team's stadium in 2013. The plan called for the city to contribute about $87 million for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in exchange for a six-year hard tether to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.
The NFL takes over the team’s internal investigation
Earlier Sunday, the NFL confirmed to multiple media outlets that it's taking over the investigation of alleged workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Confirmation of the investigation also appeared on NFL.com, which cited NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
The Panthers issued a statement on Friday saying the team had started an investigation of Richardson. The probe was to be conducted by a Los Angeles-based law firm and overseen by Panthers’ minority partner Erskine Bowles, who was White House Chief of Staff for former president Bill Clinton.
The team’s statement said the Panthers and Richardson take the allegations “very seriously” and are “fully committed to a full investigation,” along with appropriate measures to address any misconduct.
Neither the Panthers nor the NFL has provided any details on the specific nature of the allegations against Richardson.
Fan reaction to the general allegations
WFAE spoke to several fans outside Bank of America Stadium following Sunday’s game, but before Richardson announced he is selling the team.
A fan named Charles Wilson said he didn't want to pass judgment on Richardson until he hears more information. If the allegations against Richardson are true, Wilson says he will still have a positive view of the organization as a whole.
"There are other members doing the day-to-day management, and I believe they are doing a great job," Wilson said.
Another fan, Jenny Cox, says Richardson has always impressed her, "always standup, always above all the drama."
“I’ve never heard anything until now that he was negative to anybody, so I would put serious doubt in that (allegations) until proven otherwise," Cox said.
Some fans expressed similar sentiments, but did not want to identify themselves.
Doug Glover said he's always had a high opinion of Richardson, but "it’s disappointing to hear this. It’s tarnished the man’s reputation. If it’s the case, it’s wrong. They are going to have to deal with the consequences if that’s the case."
Team reaction prior to Richardson’s announcement
Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton spoke at a press conference following Sunday’s game. They both briefly answered questions about allegations of workplace misconduct against Richardson.
“I told the guys I didn’t have a lot of information. I don’t know what’s been written and said. All I know is what Mr. Richardson has been to me and that’s been very supportive,” said Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera.
“For me I hope this doesn’t alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson. But for me, he has given me some things that I’ll ever be appreciative of him for,” said Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.