Tom Sorensen

Carolina Panthers founder’s statue is no tribute to his legacy. But it’s close to it.

If the statue of Jerry Richardson were human, it would be a toddler. The statue will celebrate its second birthday next week, the same week that Richardson celebrates his 82nd.

For a statue so young, it sure is beloved. Write that it should be removed, and many fans suggest that I should be.

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David Tepper, the new owner of the Carolina Panthers, says he is contractually obligated to leave the statue alone. The deal that Jerry Richardson cut when he sold the team demands that the statue remain.

Hurricanes and pestilence might destroy all that is around it. But the contract apparently says that neither hurricanes nor pestilence can topple the statue.

I hadn’t seen the statute since last season, so I paid it a visit at the north gate Tuesday. It’s still big, 12 feet, 10 inches high, still wears a dark suit and still holds an oversized football in its oversized left hand. Where it’s especially true to Richardson is the hair. Every one is in place.

Whether it stays or goes is not terribly important. But if it was my team, and I had the option, I’d remove it.

Some fans believe that the statue is a testament to the legacy of Richardson, the Panthers’ first owner. I don’t. The statue is a testament to the end, and for Richardson, the end was terrible. Women complained about sexual harassment, a scout was victim of a racial epitaph, and an NFL investigation found the allegations true.

When I see the statue, I think of the sad conclusion, a testament to an abuse of power.

Like the rest of us, Richardson’s legacy supersedes that conclusion. He did bring the NFL, the country’s most popular sport, to the Carolinas and to Charlotte. He did interact with fans, giving them rides in his golf cart, talking and laughing and making them feel as if they were part of his team.

So why shouldn’t there be a testament to the man?

There is. Look past the 4,500-pound statue and you see Bank of America Stadium. That’s Richardson’s legacy.

The stadium is outdated just as every stadium, arena and ballpark built in the mid-1990s is outdated. But it’s stylish and built with care, as the wide concourses attest.

That stadium is Richardson’s legacy, and as long as it stands, will continue to be.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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