After coming under fire earlier this year for their handling of death in a player’s family, the Carolina Panthers have changed their policy and are admitting their mistake.
Fullback Mike Tolbert’s uncle, Curtis Foster, passed away last Friday, and on Thursday Tolbert, along with team executives and teammates, took a private jet funded by team owner Jerry Richardson to the funeral.
This came months after former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams blasted the team for what he perceived as a lack of caring and condolence from the organization.
“The biggest thing is we’ve learned about how important it is for us to be there for the guys. And we learned the hard way,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday.
“It’s just one of those things that you learn how to handle it better. We made our mistakes and we’ve learned and grown from it. And the thing that’s been really important has also been the support we’ve gotten from our owner.”
Williams expressed his disappointment with the Panthers in an interview in March with WBTV when Carolina told him the team would release him from his contract.
Williams’ mother, Sandra Hill, died in 2014 after a long battle with breast cancer. Williams said only one teammate, Greg Hardy, attended the funeral. He said he got texts and phone calls from teammates and team officials but little else.
“It stung to know that a place of business that you’ve worked for,” Williams said, “you’ve bled, you’ve played through injuries, you’ve done everything you possibly can for this organization to be successful, and then upon your darkest hour, they let you, handle it by yourself.”
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis attended Foster’s funeral on Thursday along with defensive end Charles Johnson, general manager Dave Gettleman and player engagement director Mark Carrier.
Davis said it was important to show his support for Tolbert but hesitated at speaking on Williams’ situation.
“It’s one of those situations where we love DeAngelo,” Davis said. “I was real close to his mom and it was a situation where we just couldn’t make it down there at that time. But DeAngelo knows how we feel about him. That doesn’t change anything.”
Tolbert said Foster, 76, was more like a grandfather to him than an uncle. He had made his own arrangements for the funeral in Bowden, Ga., before the Panthers stepped in to help.
Tolbert said he was “beside myself” because of the support he received.
“I had nothing but positive things from everybody,” Tolbert said. “It’s been a tough time for the family, but at the same time when the people you call your family away from home cares enough to show their support, it’s really great.”
Said Rivera: “I think that we’re trying to make sure that these guys do understand that we do look at them more than football players—that they’re people that do have private lives and we’re here to support you. I do think it’s important and as I’ve said, we’ve made our mistakes, we’ve learned and we’ve gone forward. We’re going to make sure we do things the right way.”