First of all, the statue must go.
The 13-foot statue of former Carolina Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson that sits outside Bank of America Stadium’s north gate has to be removed.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday that the workplace misconduct allegations against Richardson had been “substantiated” and fined Richardson $2.75 million — nearly tripling the record for the largest fine ever levied by the league.
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All that means the statue’s presence will now remind everyone on every home Sunday that the man who founded the team was downright creepy when it came to the way he treated certain team employees.
No one needs that reminder. The statue has outlived its usefulness, much like Richardson’s tenure with the Panthers. He has already sold the team to billionaire David Tepper, and thank God for that.
Richardson’s job now is to do one of the things he does very well — fade completely out of the public spotlight and take that statue with him, before the inevitable spray-painting and vandalizing begin.
An apology would be nice while he’s at it, of course, but that’s not the Richardson way. He’s a proud 81-year-old man who still might not think he’s done anything wrong. It’s impossible to know for sure, because he has never answered any questions about the detailed allegations of sexual and racial misconduct publicly since they first appeared in a December Sports Illustrated story.
NFL brings the hammer
Richardson made a ton of big mistakes in his dealings with employees, and he apparently got away with those for years — thanks in large part to the team not reporting the claims of harassment to the NFL offices, and also not reporting the monetary agreements it made to resolve those claims.
But I’m glad Richardson didn’t ultimately get away with all of it. The Panthers tried to sweep all this under a black-and-blue rug for years, but the NFL at least got to an approximation of the full truth with the independent investigation led by respected attorney Mary Jo White.
I worried that the NFL — hampered by nondisclosure agreements and uncooperative Richardson protectors who had enabled the owner’s behavior for years — would eventually say they couldn’t conclude one way or the other if Richardson had done things like send those suggestive handwritten notes Sports Illustrated published to a former female employee about pampering, lip gloss, lotion and shaved legs. Or give everyone in the office a whole new, disgusting take on “Jeans Day.” Or arrive to a meeting barefoot and then ask a female employee for a foot rub.
Instead, the NFL brought out its hammer and banged some more dents into Richardson’s already tarnished legacy. The league couldn’t tell Richardson to sell the team because he had already decided to do so by the time its probe began. It’s an interesting hypothetical question to wonder if they would have had he stubbornly decided not to sell.
The NFL, so often accused of being tone deaf, also showed good sense in deciding to put Richardson’s $2.75 million fine to use in supporting organizations dedicated to addressing race- and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.
A record fine
The biggest fines ever handed out by the NFL before Thursday were a pair of $1 million fines — one to former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo for his part in a gambling scandal in the late 1990s, and another to the New England Patriots in 2015 after the Deflategate investigation.
Richardson, of course, can more than afford this fine. He will never run out of money after selling the Panthers to Tepper for $2.275 billion earlier this year. He can retire wherever he wants and do whatever he wants, health permitting.
But make no mistake, this will hurt him. Richardson just got blasted by the league he loved so much that he kept the NFL shield on the 50-yard line at Bank of America Stadium despite hardly anyone besides him liking that idea. Yet Richardson's beloved NFL correctly sided not with the owner, but with his accusers.
And Jerry Richardson’s reputation — one of the few things all of that money can’t buy — will never be the same.