I know Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, and I believe he’d love to talk to somebody, look them in the eye and say something like: “What I did and said is being taken out of context. I was joking. I’m not the creepy old man I’m portrayed to be.”
The news last week should devastate him, and I suspect it does. A former Richardson employee with the Panthers not only made creepy-old-man allegations about Richardson, but she backed them up with handwritten notes Richardson gave her.
I’ve received several notes from Richardson. When I was laid up with a concussion, he sent several, all supportive. Regardless of what you think of Richardson, almost nobody behaves one way all the time.
But if the allegations by the woman who worked for Richardson are true, and there’s little reason to believe they aren’t, Richardson hurt her deeply.
I’ve said before that Richardson cares far more than most public figures about how he’s perceived. Think about the Richardson you’ve encountered at one of his favorite restaurants during lunch or in a golf cart outside Bank of America Stadium. Posture perfect, hair impeccable and clothes chosen carefully, he’d pick up fans in a golf cart before home games and drive them as close to their seats as he was able.
Jerry Richardson liked being Jerry Richardson. I have no idea how he now feels. Nobody I know has seen him since the initial Sports Illustrated story broke and he declared he would sell the team.
For so long, Richardson was considered the good owner of a Charlotte major league sports team and George Shinn of the Charlotte Hornets was the bad one.
An urban myth: When Shinn moved his NBA team from Charlotte to New Orleans, Charlotte was crushed. The truth: Charlotte had ceased to care.
Shinn reinvented himself in Louisiana, and I flew to New Orleans to talk to him about it. In response to a question, Shinn mentioned two of the charities he supports. I called both, and they were lavish in their praise of Shinn, who now lives in Tennessee. (Richardson also contributes to a variety of charities.)
So if the choice comes down to Shinn the former owner versus Richardson the soon-to-be former owner, who’s the good guy?