Richardson called football “an integral part of my life” but did not address the accusations against him in his statement.
The NFL said earlier Sunday that it had taken over the investigation, which the Panthers originally announced Friday. The NFL said through a spokesman that it will conduct the investigation and expects to retain outside counsel, but declined further comment.
Sports Illustrated reported that at least four former team employees received significant financial settlements, accompanied by nondisclosure agreements, following to inappropriate behavior and comments in the workplace by Richardson, including sexually suggestive remarks and acts. According to the report, there also was an incident in which Richardson used a racial slur at a Panthers scout who is African American.
The Panthers’ announcement Friday said the investigation was being conducted by the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP, and was being overseen by Erskine Bowles, a limited partner in the franchise and the former White House chief of staff. The Panthers’ announcement raised questions about the independence of an investigation conducted by one of the team’s owners.
“The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct,” Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said in Friday’s announcement. “The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally. We have work to do to achieve this goal, but we are going to meet it.”
Richardson, 81, attended the Panthers-Packers game Sunday in Charlotte. He has owned the Panthers since their inception and is the only current NFL owner to have played in the league. He once was regarded as a leading power broker among owners but has had a lower profile in recent years, perhaps in part due to health issues. (He received a heart transplant in 2009.) Richardson did not attend last week’s NFL owners’ meeting in Dallas.
Richardson’s sons, Mark and Jon, left the franchise in 2009. Team President Danny Morrison resigned earlier this year and has not been replaced, and Jerry Richardson fired Dave Gettleman as the Panthers’ general manager just before training camp and replaced him with former GM Marty Hurney.
In September, Panthers players met with Richardson, reportedly because they were wary that they could be punished by the team if they spoke out on social issues.
Richardson, if he keeps the team and is found guilty of workplace misconduct, could be subject to discipline under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which applies to all personnel within the league. The NFL suspended Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for six games and fined him $500,000 in 2014 after Irsay’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.
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