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Jerry Richardson gave from his heart, no matter what you think

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

Jerry Richardson has a weakness most public figures don’t. And if they do, they rarely acknowledge it.

He cares what people think about him.

We all care what certain people think. Those who announce that they don't care probably care the most. If they didn’t care, why would they bother to say it?

Richardson, who owns the Carolina Panthers, cares what strangers think. He even cares what the media think.

That concern could have prevented him from contributing $10 million to the Charlotte 49ers Tuesday for naming rights to their new football stadium.

Richardson will be criticized for the contribution.

Instead of attempting to appease his critics, he did the right thing and gave from his bank account and from his heart.

The often forgotten university and the sometimes maligned owner are an interesting pair.

The university should be a greater resource for Charlotte than it has been. But we forget about it.

The 49ers hope football will change that. The impetus for the program isn’t to give alumni an opportunity to tailgate. It’s to entice Charlotte residents to drive to campus and see some of what the school offers.

How does a university sell itself to a city that would rather watch North Carolina play baseball on TV? It offers visitors big plays, big hits and a fantastic little stadium that could grow into much more.

Charlotte’s spring football game was one of the rare events in which a school, a program, fans and coaches got everything right. One of those coaches is Johnson Richardson, grandson of Jerry Richardson and the son of Jerry’s son, Jon. Johnson coaches tight ends and probably will for as long as he chooses to.

I drove away from the spring game smiling – and the stadium didn’t even have a name.

The 49ers play their first game Aug. 31 against the Campbell Camels, who are coached by Mike Minter, who is one of the most popular players in Panthers history. They’ll play at Richardson Stadium.

So, yes, the school is often forgotten. And Richardson is sometimes maligned. He’s maligned because the Panthers have never won a Super Bowl, because they haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and because the owner accepted $87.5 million from Charlotte for renovations to Bank of America Stadium.

Some see the money as welfare for the wealthy. I see it for what it is – an investment.

Charlotte kicked in money to retain the Panthers for the same reason Charlotte kicks in money to attract new business. The Panthers are an important part of the city and Charlotte didn't want that to change.

To spend no money is to stay where you are, and to stay where you are is to fall behind. Charlotte refuses to.

There are, in our city, suburbs and state, people who wake up looking for a reason to be unhappy. Tuesday, Richardson gave them one more.

How dare the owner donate $10 million to the 49ers when he could have used the money to make Bank of America Stadium’s escalators longer and suites sweeter?

There, of course, is no correlation between the money the city invested in the stadium and the money Richardson gave the university. But facts are nasty little things, and they can get in the way.

Richardson knew he would hear from critics. He knew they would loudly denounce the $10 million as greedy and not gracious.

But if there’s a reason to invest great importance in the opinions of people you don’t know, I have absolutely no idea what it is.

Richardson ignored the lurking detractors and did what he believes.

We’ll be reminded of it every time we drive to Richardson Stadium to watch the 49ers play.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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