Two years ago next week, I saw the larger-than-life statue of Jerry Richardson for the first time. I was working down the road at the Charlotte Observer and news traveled that there was big unveiling at the stadium.
I walked down the road expecting to see a modest statue like the ones of the late Sam Mills Jr. and Mike McCormack, the first president of the Carolina Panthers. As I crested the hill I saw something dark and ostentatious in the foreground—as I got closer it seemed to get bigger. Privately I likened this moment to seeing the Death Star for the first time.
It was on the day, celebrating Jerry Richardson’s 80th birthday, that the sculptor told me those who commissioned it wanted the 12’ 10” Richardson statue, propped up on a four-foot pedestal, to be flanked by two gigantic panthers to “take the emphasis off Mr. Richardson … so that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable” for him to have this at a stadium entrance.
Throughout the day I was told that this wasn’t what Richardson wanted. No, this was simply a 4,500-pound gift from the Panthers’ limited partners to Richardson and his family. He had no idea what was going on until that day, it was said.
Some may have believed the humility then. Maybe in the two years since, people have become wise to the fraudulent show of modesty. But by Tuesday morning, there can be no mistaking the amount of Jerry Richardson’s hubris in the face of the most embarrassing episode of his nearly 82-year-old life.
New Panthers owner David Tepper said at his introductory press conference that he is “contractually obligated to leave the statue as is.” Everything about Tepper’s inflection and body language during the delivery of that sentence indicated that, if he had his druthers, the statue would not remain as is. It all points to Richardson including that bit in the deal, even though we were led to believe he never even wanted the statue to begin with.
(An aside: the question regarding the statue was the last of the press conference, and so there were no follow-ups. Must the statue remain for a year or five years or in perpetuity? And why would Tepper agree to this?)
The statue will remain—presumably at Richardson’s decree—as both his own great personal monument and as a final middle finger, extending 17 feet into the air, to the new owner, to city residents and fans of his team who find him to be repulsive and, most importantly, to the employees with whom he engaged in sexual and racial workplace misbehavior.
Richardson didn’t emerge from this scot-free, but no one is confusing any of this with being a harsh punishment. The NFL fined him $2.75 million for his misdeeds two weeks before the sale of his team for $2.275 billion was officially closed, from which Richardson would have pocketed more than $1 billion for his share alone. The league’s announcement of the fine and its statement of findings lacked any real statement of findings, sparing Richardson from having the details of his repeated harassment retold and bolstered by his refusal to release his accusers from their non-disclosure agreements.
“…While the investigation was not limited to the matters that have been publicly reported, and did not seek to confirm or reject the details of each specific allegation made regarding Mr. Richardson, it did substantiate the claims that have been made, and identified no information that would either discredit the claims made or that would undermine the veracity of the employees who have made those claims,” the statement read, apparently assuming you already knew the details or know how to use Google.
His reputation has taken a fatal blow, but that would only matter to him if he cared about what most of you thought about him.
And finally there is the matter of how Richardson has never publicly apologized for any of this. In no statement made since mid-December has he even offered a perfunctory mea culpa. The people in his orbit—especially the women—were left holding the bag, which is really some way for a southern gentleman to behave.
Tepper spent part of his press conference Tuesday explaining “whatever was, was” and that “this is now.” He promises an open-door policy and a family environment for his employees. David Tepper doesn’t want to forget what got him and the Panthers here, but if all goes to plan this type of behavior won’t happen again and the Panthers can focus on winning a championship.
That pursuit begins later this month at training camp at Wofford College, where the Panthers will take the field next to yet another larger-than-life statue of Jerry Richardson.