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Panthers owner: I'm 'firmly against domestic violence’

In the wake of the NFL indefinitely suspending Ray Rice for punching his then-fiancee, and with one of his own players facing domestic violence charges, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said in a tearful statement Wednesday night that he stands firmly against domestic violence.

Richardson was being honored at the McGlohon Theater stage in Charlotte as a recipient of an Echo Award Against Indifference.

As Richardson accepted his Echo award Wednesday, his chest heaved and his voice cracked as he began speaking.

“When it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple,” Richardson said.

In Charlotte, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is due in court Nov. 17 for a jury trial on charges he assaulted his ex-girlfriend and threatened to kill her.

“To those who would suggest that we’ve been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge. Over the course of our 20 years, we have worked extremely hard to build an organization of integrity ... I will work hard to continue to earn your trust.”

Richardson and the Panthers have been criticized by both the local and national media as well as by some fans. Other fans have stood by the team.

Richardson made no further comments as he was ushered out of the event.

After Richardson spoke, a team official reiterated that the Panthers would allow the legal process to play out. Hardy missed practice Wednesday to meet with his lawyer.

Richardson’s award came at a time when the NFL is facing increasing criticism for its handling of Rice’s situation and its approach toward dealing with players charged with domestic violence.

Richardson never mentioned Hardy by name in his remarks Wednesday.

Both the Panthers and the NFL have said they would let the judicial process play out and then determine whether Hardy would be punished.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was scheduled to attend Wednesday’s event in Charlotte honoring Richardson, a longtime Goodell supporter. But Goodell, who had been in Wake Forest near Raleigh earlier in the day to promote a USA Football safety initiative, never showed up.

Late Wednesday, Goodell announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will conduct an independent investigation into the Rice incident.

Goodell has been the focus of criticism the NFL has faced in the handling of the Rice case. He initially suspended Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, two games for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino in February.

In a letter to owners in August, Goodell admitted he had botched Rice’s suspension and announced tougher penalties for players charged with and convicted of domestic violence.

Baltimore released Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely Monday after TMZ.com obtained a video from inside the elevator that showed Rice punching Janay Rice, now his wife, and knocking her to the floor.

Goodell told CBS this week the league asked for the video multiple times, but was denied access to it. But The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a New Jersey law enforcement official gave a copy of the second video from inside the elevator to a league executive in April.

The Panthers have indicated they will allow the NFL to handle any discipline of Hardy, who was found guilty by a district judge in July of assaulting and threatening Nicole Holder during an early morning altercation at Hardy’s uptown condo in May.

Hardy immediately appealed for a jury trial. Under North Carolina law, any defendant convicted of misdemeanor charges is granted a jury trial upon appeal.

The trial would fall a day after the Panthers’ home game against Atlanta and during their bye week, although Hardy’s attorney has said he believes the trial will be pushed back to 2015.

Hardy is playing this season under a franchise tag, a designation under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to keep a star player for a salary determined by their position. Hardy, coming off a season in which he set the Panthers’ franchise record for quarterback sacks, is guaranteed $13.1 million for the 2014 season.

Earlier Wednesday, while visiting Wake Forest High School near Raleigh, Goodell, said that the judicial process would have to run its course in the cases of Hardy and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who was arrested 10 days ago, on a domestic violence charge.

“It’s very important to make sure we have all the facts and to make sure law enforcement has the opportunity to do what they need to do,” Goodell said. “But then we have to make sure whatever action that we should take at the appropriate time, we’re in position to do.”

Goodell said both players would be held to the new domestic-violence policy the NFL announced two weeks ago in response to criticism of Rice’s original suspension. The new policy mandates a six-game suspension for a first offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second.

“Part of our program here, there’s so much focus on the discipline, but what we announced two weeks ago was a change in the education, the training, so we can do everything possible to prevent these issues from happening,” Goodell said. “That’s the key for us. Give people the resources to be able to do that.”

Staff writer Lawrence Toppman and Luke DeCock of Raleigh’s News & Observer contributed.

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