CHARLOTTE, N.C — Jerry Richardson, the Carolina Panthers founder and for years one of the NFL’s most influential owners until a scandal forced him to sell the team, has died. He was 86.
Richardson died peacefully Wednesday night at his Charlotte home, the team said in a statement.
Richardson became the first former NFL player to own a team since Chicago’s George Halas when he landed the expansion Panthers in 1993.
“The NFL community is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry Richardson,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday. “The Carolina Panthers are a testament to his extraordinary and tireless dedication to the community. But his league-first attitude as seen through his leadership of numerous NFL committees, including the Stadium Committee and Management Council Executive Committee, helped pave the way for a series of public-private stadium partnerships throughout the country, and collective bargaining agreements that continue to support the growth of the game.
“As a former player himself, Jerry cared deeply about the welfare of players and the labor agreements he helped negotiate have led to improved pay and benefits for generations of players.
“From a personal perspective, he was a wise and caring advisor to me, his fellow owners, and many Panthers players and coaches over the years.
“On the NFL’s behalf, I extend our sincere condolences to Jerry’s wife, Rosalind, and their family.”
A former teammate of Johnny Unitas who caught a touchdown pass in the Baltimore Colts’ victory over the New York Giants in the 1959 NFL championship game, Richardson only spent two years in the NFL before venturing into the restaurant business. He used his championship bonus money to open the first Hardee’s in Spartanburg, South Carolina — close to where he had attended Wofford College.
He went on to make his fortune in the restaurant business, becoming chief executive officer of Flagstar, the sixth-largest food service company in the country at the time.
The Spring Hope, North Carolina, native spent years trying to persuade the NFL to put a team in the Carolinas, ultimately succeeding through a relatively original concept of funding a new stadium through the sales of permanent seat licenses.
“Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic,” current Panthers owner David Tepper and his wife Nicole said in a statement. “With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful. Nicole and I extend our deepest condolences to Rosalind, the entire Richardson family, and their loved ones. We wish them much peace and comfort.”
Carolina began play in 1995 and Richardson quickly built the Panthers into one of the league’s model franchises, while becoming a powerful figure in the NFL. Richardson served on several high-level owners committees, playing a key role in labor negotiations with the players’ union.
But Richardson’s reputation took a tremendous hit when he announced he was selling the Panthers on Dec. 17, 2017, — the same day Sports Illustrated reported that four former Panthers employees received significant monetary settlements due to inappropriate sexually suggestive language and actions by Richardson. It was also reported he used a racial slur directed toward a team scout.
He sold the team to Tepper, a hedge fund owner, in May 2018 for a then-NFL record $2.27 billion. The following month the NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million for alleged workplace misconduct.
Richardson never addressed the allegations against him publicly.
After purchasing the Panthers, Tepper said he was “contractually obligated” to keep the statue of Richardson, flanked by two panthers, outside of the downtown Charlotte stadium that Richardson built.
But in June 2020, the Panthers removed the statue, saying they were concerned there may be attempts to take the statue down due to protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd.
The team said that “moving the statue is in the interest of public safety.” It has never returned.
Although Richardson once promised the Panthers would win a Super Bowl “within 10 years” of beginning play in 1995, they never did. The team reached the Super Bowl in the 2003 and 2015 seasons, but lost both times.
The lack of consistency irritated Richardson, as Carolina failed to put together back-to-back winning seasons during his 23 seasons as owner despite hiring four coaches: Dom Capers, George Seifert, John Fox and Ron Rivera.
Richardson is survived by his wife, Rosalind, son Mark and daughter Ashley Richardson Allen.
Copyright 2023 by the Associated Press