The Carolina Panthers on Wednesday removed a large statue of former owner Jerry Richardson that had stood in front of the team’s stadium in Charlotte since 2016. The team cited concerns that the statue could be the target of vandalism at a time when protests against racism and police brutality have been held daily in Charlotte, as in many other parts of the country.

“We were aware of the most recent conversation surrounding the Jerry Richardson statue and are concerned there may be attempts to take it down,” the Panthers said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the sculpture, which also features two snarling panthers flanking the ex-owner, was removed from Bank of America Stadium. “We are moving the statue in the interest of public safety.”

Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer reported Thursday that the team will not return the statue to the stadium grounds and eventually will take it to a storage facility.

The 13-foot-tall, 4,500-pound statue was reportedly paid for by minority partners in the team’s ownership group as a gift in 2016 to honor the 80th birthday of Richardson, who had been the primary owner since the franchise’s inception in 1993.

One year later, a Sports Illustrated story detailed accusations of racial and sexual workplace misconduct by Richardson, which were subsequently substantiated by a months-long NFL investigation.

The league fined Richardson $2.75 million in June 2018, a month after he finalized a $2.2 billion sale of the Panthers to hedge fund manager David Tepper. The installation of a new owner quickly led to speculation that Tepper might want to move the statue away from the stadium to help the team and its fan base move on from the scandal-marred end of the Richardson era.

At his introductory news conference as the team’s new owner, Tepper was asked about the statue. He paused before saying, “I’m contractually obligated to keep that statue as it is,” as team officials quickly ended the media session.

The Charlotte Observer cited a pair of sources with direct knowledge of the situation in reporting that Richardson was not aware beforehand that the statue was being removed Wednesday. But Fowler reported Thursday that the statue was not important to the former owner and that he was not planning any legal action concerning its removal.

“Mr. Richardson has made no public comments about the Panthers or the NFL since the sale of the team and doesn’t plan to do so now as a private citizen,” a spokesman for the former owner said Wednesday. “He has worked to treat all people fairly in his business and personal lives and, like many other Americans, is troubled by recent events in Minneapolis, Charlotte, and around the country.”

Panthers safety Tre Boston indicated Wednesday that he approved of the statue’s removal, saying (via ESPN), “It’s best for the whole community.”

“That was something, in the direction of where the Carolina [Panthers] stand, we would like to move forward,” Boston said. He noted (per ESPN) that he heard Richardson discourage players from protesting against racial injustice in 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick inspired other NFL players to take a knee or stage other demonstrations during pregame renditions of the national anthem.

The removal of the statue comes several days after the Panthers cut ties with a Charlotte-based sponsor, CPI Security, following the emergence of comments the company’s CEO made that were dismissive of the protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

In announcing the end of that partnership, the Panthers referred to a May 30 statement in which they said, “We must work together and take meaningful, sustained action to find solutions and enact change that is so desperately needed to end racial and social injustice. We are committed to doing our part.”

“It seems like the Black Lives Matter movement in Charlotte is actually having some effect,” said a fan who went to watch the Richardson statue get placed on a flatbed and driven away (via the Observer), “and organizations like the Panthers are stepping up and saying something about it.”

“There is a lot of progress being made in Charlotte. I’m actually surprised the protesters haven’t gotten to it already. But this means a lot,” another fan at the scene told WCBD. “We don’t have any room for racist people or misogynist people. … This means a lot for Charlotte and the United States in general.”