Saturday evening, during their third day of training camp, Carolina Panthers players listened as league officials talked about the impact of domestic violence and sexual assault, with an emphasis on how bystanders can help those at risk.
Joining the team’s 90 players during the 60-minute presentation at Wofford’s Student Life Center was Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who drove from Charlotte and sat in the back of the room for the program.
The Panthers were thrust into the middle of the league’s domestic violence crisis last year when former defensive end Greg Hardy missed nearly the entire season after he was accused of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend during an altercation at Hardy’s uptown condo.
Days before Hardy went on the commissioner’s exempt list last September, Richardson wept during an impassioned speech while being honored at a local awards ceremony.
If Panthers players needed a reminder where Richardson stood on the issue of violence toward women, his presence at the league’s education session Saturday provided it.
“It definitely speaks to the importance of it,” linebacker Thomas Davis said Monday. “When you have an owner show up for a meeting like that, I think it should open some of these guys’ eyes for them to realize how important it is.”
Offensive lineman Amini Silatolu said players took note of Richardson in the room.
“This is real,” Silatolu recalled thinking. “He’s not playing any games this year with that kind of nonsense. I think everybody got the feel for that, with him being there.”
The Panthers decided last fall to cut ties with Hardy, who became a free agent after a 2014 season in which he played in only one game.
Hardy signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with Dallas that could be worth as much as $13.1 million. His 10-game suspension was reduced to four games, and the NFL Players Association could pursue legal action to get Hardy on the field sooner.
The NFL for years has included a domestic violence and sexual assault program in its annual rookie symposium, but it stepped up its education efforts last year in the wake of the scandals involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Hardy.
The mandatory one-hour sessions began last fall. Teams are going through the second phase of the program, which also addresses DUI, during training camps.
Several veteran players said Richardson’s stance on domestic violence issues was clear before the Hardy incident.
“We’ve heard Mr. Richardson speak on it before. So we understand his take and his views on it,” Davis said. “It’s like I was raised. Plain and simple, you don’t do those kinds of things.”
Center Ryan Kalil echoed Davis’ comments.
“This is something he takes very seriously, and I’ve known that all nine years I’ve been here,” Kalil said of Richardson. “It’s the first thing you find out when you come here. It’s one of the things that he does not tolerate at all.”