Should Carolina Panthers fans worry that owner Jerry Richardson might sell the team to someone who would move it out of Charlotte?
Maybe, but first they should worry about something else – the employees whom Richardson allegedly mistreated to the point that the team had to pay them significant hush money.
If allegations detailed in Sunday’s disturbing Sports Illustrated report are true – and there’s little reason to believe they are not – Richardson demeaned and objectified female employees and hurled a racial slur at a black employee. His behavior cannot be explained away as an old man with old notions navigating in a new, woke world. He made people choose between their comfort, their dignity and their job. It was wrong.
That doesn’t change that this is a sad end to a relationship that has largely been good for Charlotte. Richardson changed this city by bringing an NFL team here. You can debate the worthiness of spending public dollars on pro sports, but there’s little debate the Panthers helped shape Charlotte’s brand and legitimize it in the eyes of businesses and talent who’ve come since. Plus, it’s just fun to have a home team to root for on Sundays.
All of which is why a lot of Charlotte feels uncomfortable this morning. Richardson’s decision to sell the team at season’s end is the right call, but it accelerates a process that was probably at least a couple of years away. It also raises that uncomfortable question: Will the team go to an owner who will move it elsewhere?
We doubt it. Both Richardson and the NFL have reason to want to keep the Panthers in Charlotte. For his part, Richardson all but explained why in his statement Sunday, which began: “There’s been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to have brought an NFL franchise to Charlotte.” There’s little reason to believe that goal – to have a team in a city he loves – has changed.
The NFL also would prefer to keep the Panthers in Charlotte, a growing and thriving market. Smart business people don’t mess with success, and Charlotte has shown it can and will support a franchise, even when it struggles. NFL owners get to make the final call on who gets to join their exclusive club. Their thumb surely will be firmly on the scale for buyers who want to keep the team here.
Still, nothing is certain in business, and Charlotte’s discomfort today is a reminder of the risks of wooing pro sports. While fans and cities see teams as community partners who help make a place better, those teams ultimately have a different bottom line than ours. They can come and go, as we painfully learned once before with the Charlotte Hornets.
We hope that doesn’t happen, and that a local owner or group will come forth with a legitimate bid that makes the decision easy for Richardson and the NFL. We expect city leaders to be proactive but not panicked, to remind the NFL and prospective owners that life (and business) is good here without making entreaties that will cost Charlotte too much later.
Because life, and business, really is good here. The NFL knows that. We should, too, no matter what comes next.