Jerry Richardson was a community hero for bringing the NFL to Charlotte in 1993. As owner of the Panthers, he became affectionately known as The Big Cat.
UNC Charlotte named its football stadium after Richardson five years ago. At that time, UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois said, “We could not be more pleased to be able to establish a strong connection with one of Charlotte’s true living legacies.”
Now, that legacy includes a finding by an NFL investigation that misconduct claims against Richardson are substantiated. He now has the distinction of being given the biggest fine in NFL history - $2.75 million.
WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson joined “All Things Considered” host Lisa Worf to discuss Richardson’s legacy. A former columnist for the Charlotte Observer, Tommy once wrote that Richardson’s behavior in a press conference was so poor that he came off as “irritable, cheap, confused, obstinate and a bit of a creep.”
LW: That column you wrote was one observation. What are some other observations of Jerry Richardson over the years?
TT: Well, he certainly has done well for many of his employees over the years. I remember the first time the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, when they played New England in 2004. He took all the employees to the game with him, which he certainly didn't have to do. He paid for their flight over there, paid for the hotel and tickets and that sort of thing. I believe he did that for the second time the Panthers went to the Super Bowl too. So, in some ways he was considered, I think, a benevolent owner of the team.
I think he was also considered a pretty tough and hard guy. In his house, he has his big grandfather clock. When players, agents or somebody would come in to have a conversation with him, he would sit them down in the room with the grandfather clock making a sort of ominous ticking sound that would be sort of the drumbeat in the background of whatever Jerry was trying to get this person to do, or not do.
I think he meant to be intimidating, as a big guy and a fellow player — one of the few players to actually end up owning the team. [He’s] sort of a big, tall and imposing guy. [He’s] sort of a grim looking guy. Most of the time I think he tried to use all of those things to his advantage.
LW: As far as his public persona, what was that like among fans and other residents here?
TT: Well, he didn't spend much time in public. He didn't do a lot of press conferences or events or things like that.
The thing you mentioned earlier that I wrote about was one of the few sort of major press conferences he had when he was owner of the Panthers. In 2011, they had just come off a terrible season. [It was] just before they drafted Cam Newton and sort of turned the team around a little bit. But at a press conference, [Richardson] was sort of a little addled and just weird. There was a blond reporter that he called up to the front of the room. There was another one he was just chatting with during the press conference.
[At the press conference], he was pushing back really hard on other people's questions and I wrote about all of that. Well, the next day my phone rings and it’s Jerry. He was calling to defend himself. One of the things he said at the time was that he had gotten 11 e-mails about that press conference and 10 of them were very positive. And the first thing I thought was, if he's the owner of an NFL team and he's only getting 11 e-mails, someone is putting a pretty tight filter on those e-mails.
LW: As far as the allegations go, do you think we’ll ever know exactly what happened?
TT: Well, I think what's not clear here is the Sports Illustrated stories that sort of started all this. They spelled out some very specific things, very disturbing things, about what Jerry may have done. The NFL statement doesn't directly address any of those things, but it does make clear that the NFL believes something happened.
Now, I think what will clear all of this up at some point is if, and when, the employees who are under nondisclosure agreements are ever released from those. And I believe one of the things the NFL recommended is that, in the future, those nondisclosure agreements not be so tight and not be put in so easily because that has kept the public from knowing a great detail about what really happened here.
LW: What do you think is Jerry Richardson’s legacy now?
TT: He’ll always be the person who brought the Panthers to Charlotte and brought the NFL to Charlotte. That was a legitimizing stamp on the city.
I do think of him in some ways similar to George Shinn, who brought the Hornets here in the 80s. George Shinn had problems with women. He treated women badly and ended up basically being run out of town, and eventually moving away to New Orleans with the Hornets.
Jerry Richardson appears to have treated women badly and was sort of pushed out and forced, in some ways, to sell the team. The NFL meant so much to him, you know. He had the NFL shield at the 50 yard line instead of the team logo. [The NFL] meant everything to him, and now he's not a part of the club anymore.
LW: Anything else you’d like to add?
TT: I think it’s an interesting point these days with so many men in power who are being brought into the MeToo Movement, and men who have treated women badly. And it does seem sort of ironic, or whatever the right word is, to me that the two people who were the ones who brought the two big sports franchises into Charlotte have both sort of lost their dreams because of this.
George Shinn is somebody who's not really remembered fondly here anymore. There are no statues to George Shinn in Charlotte. And there's a big statue in front of the Panther Stadium for Jerry Richardson. I wonder how much longer that'll be there.