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Jerry Richardson Leaves Behind a Messy Legacy in Carolina

Richardson AP Photo/Mark Elias

The stewardship of Jerry Richardson over the Carolina Panthers has officially come to an end. It’s a bizarre final chapter for an owner that, until fairly recently, was generally held in pretty high public regard.

Minority owner of the Steelers and billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper is expected to sign a deal and complete the $2.2 billion purchase for the Panthers, reports ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter.

This can’t be the way that Richardson saw this concluding. In Carolina, he spent six years working to launch the expansion-Panthers in 1995 and since then has carved out a comfortable place for what’s become a dedicated, passionate, fan-base.

From the outside looking in, it seemed that Richardson’s public persona was that of a caring Grandfather that ran his business like a family.

Greg Olsen talked to David Newton of ESPN in December about the man who flew both he and his wife on a private plane to see a specialist in Boston to get the best medical advice for their son, who was born with a heart defect in 2012.

“I know about the relationship I have had personally,” Olsen said. “And all those [things] have been nothing but positive, nothing but professional and respectful.”

In the same article, Cam Newton referred to Richardson as a father figure, a person he could share his deepest thoughts with.

“I found a place of refuge with Mr. Richardson,” he said.

Richardson was involved in the community having donated $10,000 to each of the nine families of the victims of a 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

However in the last few years, signs of trouble began to surface.

Stories began to leak out, particularly around the time of the most recent NFL lockout in 2011. Richardson was painted more in the light of a bitter ex-player resentful of the salary of today’s athletes. He was described as a hardline owner that was hostile and condescending towards players during negotiations with the NFLPA.

He also was reported to have lashed out at former player Sean Morey after the retired wide out cited health concerns in relation to average career length for players.

You guys made so much [expletive] money – if you played three years in the NFL, you should own your own [expletive] team.

According to the Michael Silver article linked above, Richardson’s actions caused a rift in the two sides right from the start of the talks, forcing several owners to apologize on his behalf.

This past season, at the very height of the protests during the National Anthem, Richardson (again) displayed an inability to connect with “today’s NFL.”

Richardson’s ultra-conservative stance on the protests offered very little, if any, support of the players’ message.

Some players later admitted they were left frustrated by his very public disapproval.

Any remaining good will seemed to evaporate after Sports Illustrated reported on December 17 that Richardson and the team made multiple “significant” confidential payouts for workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and having used a racial slur with a team scout.

Richardson released a statement 48 hours later declaring his intention to sell the team and removed himself from any operational control. The Panthers also announced an internal investigation, quickly taken over by the NFL league offices.

As the franchise changes hands to David Tepper, the question now seems to turn to “how will Richardson be remembered?”

Richardson

(Photo via SportingNews.com)

It’s possible he’ll still be respected by some, whether that’s by members of his fellow NFL alumni or conservative owners and fans that felt he gave the hardline right wing a voice. This is a man that the man that brought pro football to the Carolinas. Richardson already has a statue in front of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. He’ll continue to have fans.

He’ll also certainly be held in disdain, looked at as a vindictive old man unwilling to adapt to the changing landscape of todays game. Given how much has been brought to light over the past few years, that description also seems disappointingly accurate.

Whatever his legacy, Richardson squandered the opportunity to write the ending to his own story.

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