• With the story of owner Jerry Richardson’s workplace misconduct allegations surfacing at game time, players on the Panthers were still getting up to speed after their victory over the Packers. For the most part, on the suggestion of Ron Rivera, they talked about their personal relationship with Richardson
By Jonathan Jones
December 17, 2017

CHARLOTTE — During a TV timeout early in the second quarter of Carolina’s 31-24 win against Green Bay, Sir Purr, the Panthers’ furry and comically rotund mascot, was on the field in a Jedi cloak and light saber in hand. He was dancing to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” with someone dressed as Darth Vader and two others as Storm Troopers.

This was going on as some fans seated at Bank of America Stadium were reading Sports Illustrated’s bombshell story on team owner/founder Jerry Richardson’s alleged sexual and racial misconduct. And the scene went on below and to the right of Richardson, seated in his suite above section 201 flanked to his right by his wife, Rosalind.

It was surreal, to be sure. The game had to be played and the game-day festivities had long been planned. There’s no reason to wonder why Richardson would be at this game three days into an official investigation—announced by the team on Friday, and taken over by the league on Sunday morning—knowing good and well what was about to drop. Or even why he stayed in his seat, visible to 74,447 fans and FOX’s cameras, after everyone had time to read and process the story.

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This is his team, playing in his stadium and so he will be here.

The Panthers began to understand the gravity of the reporting late in the week. Richardson was informed of the reporting Thursday, and on Friday coach Ron Rivera informed the team captains that an investigation would be opened and a story was forthcoming. The news then began to filter down to the other players. On Saturday night the team had an informal Q&A in a meeting so that players wouldn’t be blindsided by the news should they wake up to it on game day.

Rivera has had to deal with a number of off-field issues in the past four years: Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case, protests during the national anthem, Cam Newton’s insensitive press conference remarks to a female reporter, and now this.

He told the players that when asked, they should talk about their personal experiences with Richardson. To try to say anything else could lead to stepping on a potential landmine. That’s what he did in pregame interviews with ESPN and team media, and he hoped after the game that his players would do the same. That’s what they did.

“I’m not going to stand here and speak on behalf of everyone and every individual,” tight end Greg Olsen said after the game. “I know about the relationship I’ve had and the interactions I’ve had personally. And all of those have been nothing but positive and professional and respectful.”

Veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recalled Richardson joking with him about his tackling. “Mr. Richardson has always been a nice man to me,” Munnerlyn said. “Every time I see him he puts a smile on my face.”

Cam Newton admitted that the allegations are serious and does not take them lightly, but he went on to say Richardson has been a “father-like figure” for him since coming to Carolina with the top pick in 2011.

“One thing about it, Mr. Richardson has been an unbelievable source in my life,” Newton said. “I can’t really speak on nobody else, but I have conversations [with him]—cause in my life it’s hard for me to have conversations with certain people with them not being able to understand where I’m coming from. And I found a refuge with Mr. Richardson.

“But as I play for this organization I hear more and more things about him: The man he is, what he’s done for his family, what he’s done for multiple families. I haven’t really dug into the investigation or dug into the story, but I know personally, for me, man, he’s given me an opportunity to make a big impact in my family.”

It would be unfair to fully critique these players’ comments, since the story broke minutes before kickoff and they were being asked about it shortly after the game ended. No one in the locker room had time to read the story, and only a few whom I spoke with even had a Cliffs Notes version of it by the time they exited.

Some players, though, removed themselves from the situation altogether. Neither Thomas Davis nor Julius Peppers, two of the team’s oldest veterans, made themselves available to the media after the game. Both men have had a long relationship with Richardson, and both were vocal in a private meeting at Richardson’s house this fall when discussing Richardson’s stance on standing for the national anthem in the fallout from Donald Trump’s NFL-related comments.

While the game was still going on, the Charlotte Observer’s sports columnist wrote “the beginning of the end of Jerry Richardson’s tenure as owner of the Carolina Panthers” had arrived. If it indeed has, the man himself appeared unfazed on this odd game day.

At halftime as friends and family in his suite got up to get refreshments, Richardson remained seated—almost defiantly—in the middle of a row of vacant chairs as Montell Jordan sang “This Is How We Do It” at midfield.

Albert Breer contributed reporting.

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