Jerry Richardson Moves On; the NFL’s Investigation Could Be Forced to Do the Same

Jonathan Jones
Sports Illustrated

On Jerry Richardson’s six-mile drive from his south Charlotte home to his uptown stadium, he would regularly stop at Art’s BBQ and Deli for breakfast, then go up the road one final mile before parking in the loading dock of Bank of America Stadium to begin the day.

Around 8:30 Tuesday morning, as news broke that David Tepper would be the winning bidder in the sale of the Carolina Panthers, there was Richardson’s silver BMW SUV, parked in front of Art’s. He hasn’t been seen around the office as much since December, but his breakfast stop is a habit he doesn’t have to break.

Richardson’s drive to work is about to get much shorter. A new workplace is being built in his image about one mile from his home, as the crow flies. Later Tuesday afternoon, two plumbing company trucks and a concrete mixer were in the back parking lot of the 6,650-square-foot, one-story building with a detached garage. The office—designed in a Williamsburg revival style that cost $3.9 million to construct on land purchased for $1.9 million, according to public records—takes on the look of a home on a road meant only for corporate offices like Coca-Cola Consolidated and National Gypsum. The face brick on the front side of the office, facing Rexford Road, is nearly complete.

What business the 81-year-old Richardson will conduct post-Panthers ownership has been kept close to the vest, but he just got a lot more money with which to conduct that business. In 1993, he and his partners put up $206 million to start the Carolina Panthers. A quarter-century later the team sold for $2.275 billion. Richardson owns 48% of the Panthers, so he takes home nearly $1.1 billion in the all-cash deal.

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Richardson’s philanthropy will likely continue. He’s been generous to area colleges in recent years: $250,000 to the historically black Johnson C. Smith University for a scholarship fund, $10.25 million to UNC Charlotte for its football stadium, and tens of millions to Wofford College, his alma mater, for various academic and athletic buildings and ventures. And as a former fast-food restaurant group CEO and boss of an NFL franchise, Richardson could also offer his services as a consultant to business leaders.

Who will work with—or for—Richardson is clearer. Whether Tepper wants to blow the place up, simply bring in some of his own people, or something in between, the prevailing thought is that Richardson’s top lieutenants and favorite employees will always have a landing spot.

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And so what becomes of the NFL’s investigation into Richardson and his alleged workplace misconduct, that scandal that precipitated this sale in the first place and soiled Richardson’s reputation and legacy? A league spokesman told The MMQB that “the review continues,” meaning lead independent investigator Mary Jo White is presumably still working to get to the bottom of what led to at least four settlements with three female employees and an African-American scout.

But as reported by Sports Illustrated last month, Richardson has declined to release parties from the terms and conditions of their signed non-disclosure agreements. White lacks the authority to give those people immunity or force Richardson to soften his stance.

If the NFL ever had leverage on Richardson, it would seem that has vanished now that he’s no longer an owner. And clearly, information from Richardson is key to an investigation of any substance. So if he was unwilling to cooperate with investigators then, why would he cooperate now that he’s out from under the league’s thumb?

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Thirty-two owners will vote on Tepper next week, and the billionaire hedge fund manager will need just 24 of them to become the next owner of the Carolina Panthers. A known entity in league circles—through his 5% stake in the Steelers since 2009—Tepper will have no problem getting the votes in Atlanta in a few days. The transaction will be completed in July, giving the Panthers a new owner just as training camp begins.

Surely then, changes will begin both small and large. Tepper could remove Richardson’s five core values—hard work, harmony, teamwork, listen, respect—that are posted around the stadium offices, written in Richardson’s hand. He could replace the NFL shield at midfield—long there as a thank you to the league for giving the Carolinas a team—with the team logo. Richardson always wanted a stadium-in-the-park vibe, but having a stadium with flowers and shrubberies surrounding it may not suit the incoming owner. When you spend billions, you want to make it your own.

And should the Panthers reach new heights under Tepper’s ownership, how will Richardson feel? In 1993, he promised the area a Lombardi Trophy within 10 years. Twenty-five years and two Super Bowl trips later, that promise remains unfulfilled. How, then, would Richardson come to grips with another man hoisting the Lombardi in his Panther blue, for a team and a city that was once his?

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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