The Carolina Panthers and NFL say they will continue to monitor the civil unrest that has gripped Charlotte following Tuesday’s shooting of a black civilian by a police officer.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident Sunday’s home game against Minnesota will go on as scheduled.
“My understanding is we’re playing,” Rivera said Thursday afternoon. “You know me, I want to play here because I really think this would be good for the city.”
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The looting and violence in uptown on Wednesday night took place a few blocks from Bank of America Stadium. But Rivera said the team conducted “business like usual” Thursday, with no plans to allow players or coaches to leave early.
But with Charlotte under a state of emergency and the addition of several hundred National Guard and State Highway Patrol officers Thursday, team and league officials said they’re tracking the situation.
Panthers president Danny Morrison said the team has been in contact with government officials, as well as Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and NFL headquarters.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement that officials were planning to play the game as scheduled, but that “we are monitoring events in Charlotte.”
Violence erupted after Tuesday’s fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man whom police say refused their commands to drop his handgun. The family has disputed the assertion that Scott had a gun, saying it was, instead, a book.
The looting and violence continued Wednesday in uptown, resulting in 44 arrests and injuries to five officers and nine civilians.
‘Our job is to play football’
The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played a game in an empty stadium in 2015 because of concerns for fan safety following rioting in Baltimore after a 25-year-old black man died in police custody.
Officials did not indicate they were considering such a scenario for the Panthers-Vikings game on Sunday. There also haven’t been serious talks about postponing the game or moving it to a different NFL city.
“Our job is to play football. And football is entertainment to a lot of people, not just in Charlotte but around the world, around the country,” Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said. “With the terrible things that are going on right now, we’re going to go out and just try to bring a little bit of enlightenment to the community.”
Rivera was a Chargers assistant coach in 2007 when 250,000 people were evacuated from San Diego County because of wildfires, including quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers practiced in Phoenix all week but returned to San Diego to host Houston in a game won by the Chargers 35-10.
Rivera said he understands the two situations are different, but he said playing the game in San Diego nine years ago helped the city heal.
“Playing that game there brought a little bit of normalcy to the city,” Rivera said. “And I think we can do that for this community.”
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen also believes the game should be played in Charlotte, despite two nights of protests that turned into rioting and left the city looking like what Olsen called a “war zone.”
But Olsen plans to take precautions. He advised his wife to skip her usual pre-game tailgating and take their kids directly to the family’s seats.
“I said, ‘Maybe this week, just come to the game, park in our lot and go up to your seats and just get settled in,’” Olsen said. “Is it worth just moseying around town in such a heightened state of chaos? Those are all personal decisions that people have to make.”
Rivera has no concerns about the safety of his wife and daughter, who works with the team’s digital media department, on gameday.
He’s optimistic peace will be restored by Sunday, and believes the defending NFC champion Panthers can play a role in the recovery process.
“I think this community needs us. Heck, last year we brought it together,” Rivera said. “Who knows? Maybe we can help.”