Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera defended his decision to use the name of his embattled owner during his postgame, locker-room speech Sunday after the Panthers clinched a playoff berth.
A week after owner and founder Jerry Richardson announced he was selling the team amid an NFL investigation and allegations of sexual misconduct and use of a racial slur, Rivera asked his players to shout Richardson’s name following the 22-19 win against Tampa Bay.
In a video posted on the team’s website, Rivera says: “Just remember guys, this is about team. Everything we do is about team. The most important thing is about team, OK? All right, do me a favor – ‘Mr. Richardson’ on three. 1-2-3!”
Some critics on social media and Charlotte sports-talk radio questioned Rivera’s decision to rally around an owner accused of maintaining a pattern of sexually suggestive language and behavior and, in at least one instance, directing a racial slur at an African-American scout.
“What I’ve always said is I know nothing about that. I can only speak for what he has been to me and the players,” Rivera said Tuesday. “And that’s why I did it.”
Panthers players expressed similar sentiments about Richardson last week following the explosive Sports Illustrated article that alleges the Panthers made four substantial financial payouts to former employees to settle claims of workplace misconduct by the 81-year-old Richardson.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said the best way to send Richardson out would be to win a Super Bowl.
Richardson relinquished his day-to-day duties last week to chief operating officer Tina Becker, but he was back in his owners suite Sunday alongside his wife, Rosalind.
With the Panthers moving on to the playoffs following this week’s regular-season finale at Atlanta, Rivera was asked how he would handle the potential of Richardson asking to address the team in coming weeks.
“He’s still the owner. So we’ll go from there,” Rivera said. “I can’t assume what he wants to do. But at the end of the day he’s still the owner.”