Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced Sunday that he’s putting his team up for sale just as the NFL launched an investigation into accusations of workplace misconduct against him.
Richardson, 81, plans to sell the team at the end of the 2017 season, he said in a statement posted on the Panthers website. He did not address the accusations, which include sexually suggestive comments and behavior, and a racist slur.
“I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,” Richardson said. “Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played.”
There “has been no greater mission in my life than to have brought an NFL franchise to Charlotte,” he said. “Football has … been an integral part of my life — and I am blessed every day that I have made the Carolinas my home.”
The news followed the NFL’s announcement that it was taking over the team’s internal investigation of Richardson. At least four former team workers received significant financial settlements after complaining about their treatment and signed non-disclosure agreements, according to Sports Illustrated. Complaints included sexual harassment and a racist slur directed at a black scout.
On “jean day” at the Panthers offices, female workers were told to stand so Richardson could check out their bodies. He would then make comments, such as: “Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up,” the sports magazine reported.
Richardson was also accused of inappropriately touching women and requesting foot massages. Besides the racial slur — for which the team paid a settlement — Richardson also commented on black players’ appearance and threatened to discipline team members who addressed social issues, according to Sports Illustrated.
Panthers officials announced Friday that the team was conducting its own investigation. But Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Sunday the team requested the league take over the probe for ″transparency reasons.″
Richardson issued a notably tepid defense of players after Donald Trump blasted athletes in September for taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Richardson complained about “politicizing” the game. And head coach Ron Rivera told his team prior to the game after Trump’s comments that he expected them to “stand, look at the flag and be at attention,” rather than protest.
Forbes estimated in September that the team was worth $2.3 billion. Richardson and investors paid $206 million for the team in 1993, according to ESPN.