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How Will Jerry Richardson’s Stick-to-Sports Message Go Over With Panthers Players?

The Carolina boss, one of the last owners to weight in on Donald Trump’s anthem comments, veered from the generally player-supportive statements of his fellow owners. How will that play in the Panthers’ locker room?

CHARLOTTE — Jerry Richardson, the 81-year-old founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers, became the 31st head of an NFL team to issue a statement regarding Donald Trump’s weekend comments. But unlike every other statement, the one coming from Charlotte doesn’t appear to criticize Trump’s words or promote the idea that players have the right to express their opinions.

The statement, released Monday afternoon, comes after two days of silence from Panthers’ ownership and a day after defensive end Julius Peppers participated in the only protest on the team.

“We are proud of the men we have on this football team. Our players have been active and impactful participants in making our community stronger,” the statement from Richardson, who played two seasons in the NFL with the Colts, reads. “From the first time I stepped into an NFL locker room at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1959, I have lived and seen the sport’s ability to bring people of all backgrounds together.

“Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who play it.”

You could argue there was no game more cloaked in Americana Sunday than the one in Charlotte between Carolina and New Orleans. Two American flags were on the field during the national anthem, on either side of the league’s red, white and blue shield painted at the 50-yard line. The game was played in Bank of America Stadium.

Early in the first quarter, military members sitting in Section 105’s Row of Honor were acknowledged by the crowd as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played. Shortly at the start of the second half, James Brown’s “Living In America” played as nine military members from Langley Air Force Base who participated in the pregame flyover were recognized.

War is political, and you could not escape it at the game on Sunday.

Like many home games for Carolina, Sunday’s contest was unapologetically draped in patriotism. Therefore you cannot say in truth that you go to a game here to get away from politics, when there are reminders of politics and war from the moment the players run onto the field.

As weak as many of the owners’ comments have been in the past two days, they have at least called the President out for labeling protesting players “sons of bitches,” and the statements implicitly or explicitly stated they had their employees’ backs. This one did neither. Jerry Richardson told the players in his locker room to stick to sports. Will they listen?

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