The strangest part about Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson quickly distancing himself from his team after allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior is that at every step he is acting like it has nothing to do with the allegations.
On Sunday, Richardson announced he’s selling the team, with no acknowledgment of the controversy. On Monday, the story escalated again, as Richardson said he’d be stepping away from day-to-day operations of the team, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. Judy Battista of NFL.com said the reason given was for Richardson to “focus on team sale,” like there isn’t an NFL investigation into his alleged actions.
While Richardson tries to behave as if the news of the past 24 hours is just coincidental to the shocking allegations against him, which Sports Illustrated reported were both sexual and racial in nature, the Panthers are thrown into upheaval. According to the reports the team will be run by Tina Becker, who has been with the team for 20 years and is the executive director of the owner’s office. Becker’s new title is COO.
At least in Becker’s quote within the team’s release there was a vague reference to the controversy swirling around Richardson.
“These have been some of the most difficult days of my 19 years with the Panthers, but I am lifted up by the strong resolve and the commitment our employees have shown to this organization,” Becker said in the statement. “Our team on the field is performing at a very high level, and I believe is bound for the Super Bowl. My immediate focus will be to ensure the corporate side of the organization performs at the same high level, while addressing the real concerns that have been raised in recent days.”
New @Panthers COO Tina Becker says “these have been some of the most difficult days” but “lifted by strong resolve” and “commitment” employees have shown to organization. @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/rNHZfS9w2R
— Elsa Gillis (@ElsaWSOC9) December 18, 2017
Richardson’s name was nowhere in that release announcing Becker’s role changing.
There are still many unanswered questions, starting with if the NFL will continue with its investigation or be OK with the timetable Richardson put on the team sale, which he unequivocally stated Sunday would not happen until the season is done. And as with any team sale, there’s at least some concern about a new owner and whether he or she will want to keep the team in Charlotte.
For now the Panthers have to go about their business the best they can, with a new person running the team as it heads toward a probable playoff berth. Coach Ron Rivera is having to handle the distraction with the team and will be asked about it often as the most public figure in the organization. He said he believes the team will stay in the Carolinas.
“Very much so,” Rivera said. “I believe this organization has had a great impact on the Carolinas. It’s truly helped the growth of this city and this community. It’s been a source of pride and goodwill, and I’d like to see it continue. This is a great community with a really supportive fan base that has been here for us. I know they’ve been there for me most certainly and for this football team. I hope that somehow it would stay.”
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