Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will be selling the team after allegations of workplace misconduct forced the team to start an internal investigation on Friday.
The team has named Tina Becker its chief operating officer. Becker has been with the Panthers for 20 years, and she will have full control over the team’s day-to-day operations.
Richardson announced his intention to sell the team in a letter on Sunday night after the Panthers’ win over the Green Bay Packers:
Head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that he was surprised by the news.
Rivera on news of team soon to be up for sale: “Taken back a little bit.”— Max Henson (@PanthersMax) December 18, 2017
Specific allegations against Richardson surfaced in a report from Sports Illustrated on Sunday afternoon just as early NFL games were kicking off.
Among the allegations in the report are sexually inappropriate comments directed at female employees:
Among those in heaviest rotation: Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up. I bet you had to lay down on your bed to fit into those jeans. Did you step into those jeans or did you have to jump into them?
There was also allegedly a racial slur directed at a former team scout:
Perceptions of casual racism hardened recently when, multiple sources told SI, Richardson directed a racial slur at an African-American scout for the Panthers. The scout left the team this year—but not, according to sources, before he sought the counsel of a Charlotte attorney who negotiated a confidential settlement on his behalf. Contacted by SI and asked if he wished to comment, the scout responded, “I’m not in a position to talk.”
Players were not previously made aware that Richardson would be selling the team:
A source says that players were not alerted prior to the announcement this evening that Jerry Richardson plans to sell the Panthers at the end of the season.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) December 18, 2017
The news of the investigation was first broken by ESPN’s Jim Trotter, who had a statement from coach Ron Rivera.
“I have had a strong relationship with Mr. Richardson during my time with the Panthers,” Rivera told ESPN. “I have enormous respect for the man, but will wait for the results of the investigation before making any judgment.”
Team spokesman Steven Drummond also made a statement upon the news first breaking:
The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct," Drummond said. "The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally. We have work to do to achieve this goal, but we are going to meet it.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and other team captains met with Richardson on Sunday, before the plans to sell the team were announced, and on Tuesday Newton offered support to the embattled owner, per ESPN:
“In this day and time, it’s almost, you’re automatically guilty until proven innocent rather than, in the rights of the judicial system, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.
“... Nothing was actually proven. It’s just another person’s word against another person’s word. Needless to say, I still think extremely highly of Mr. Richardson. I don’t even know any of the sources. I’m reaching to find it. I take sexual assault extremely serious, and I didn’t want to offend anybody by that. Just having a lot of allegations thrown at a person isn’t fair.‘’
Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to own an NFL team. He was awarded the Panthers as an expansion franchise on Oct. 26, 1993, with the team beginning play in 1995.
Richardson was under fire in 2014, when he initially allowed Greg Hardy to play through domestic violence charges.
The team will not be sold until after the completion of the 2017 season, according to Richardson’s letter.