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Rock Research Associate Francisco Javier Lopez cited in the Charlotte Business Journal

Francisco Javier Lopez of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University contributed to a recent article in the Charlotte Business Journal that discusses the legacy of former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson who stepped down following allegations of misconduct.
by rmb529 Feb 09, 2018

This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Business Journal.

Where Richardson legacy stands a month after the Sunday meltdown 

By Erik Spanberg  –  Senior Staff Writer, Charlotte Business Journal

Jan 17, 2018, 2:47pm
Everything you thought you knew about the Carolina Panthers changed exactly one month ago today.

On Sunday, Dec.17, during the span of a single day, all of this happened:

  • The NFL said it would take over a workplace misconduct investigation of 81-year-old team founder Jerry Richardson
  • Sports Illustrated published a bombshell story online detailing financial settlements paid by Richardson to former employees because of sexual and racial harassment. The story appeared as the Panthers took the field that day.
  • Richardson, after watching from a luxury suite as his team defeated Green Bay at Bank of America Stadium, disclosed in a letter posted on the Panthers’ website that evening that he would sell the team at the end of the season.

A month later, all the big questions about the 25-year-old franchise remain unanswered: Who follows Richardson? How much will the next owner pay for the Panthers? Will a new owner demand a new stadium? How much could all of this cost taxpayers?
The Panthers’ season ended on Jan. 7, when Carolina lost a wild-card playoff game to the Saints at the Superdome in New Orleans. Richardson attended the game and embraced players in the locker room afterwards as a final farewell. The next time the Panthers play, the franchise will be owned by someone else.

And, there is also the still unsettled matter of Richardson’s legacy.

Despite a month of headlines, allegations and speculation about Richardson making suggestive and offensive sexual remarks to female employees, and in the case of a former team scout, using a racial slur, Richardson’s name remains on scholarships, awards and university buildings in the Carolinas.

The Charlotte-based Echo Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tolerance and humanitarian campaigns and inspired by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, still includes Richardson’s picture on its website as a past winner of the Echo Award Against Indifference. The page includes this introduction: “Gandhi. King. Mandela. History offers extraordinary examples of individuals who take personal responsibility for the human condition ...”

Echo Foundation president Stephanie Ansaldo told me “the foundation has considered the circumstances and is not taking any action at this time.”

Richardson received the award in 2014. At the time, he came under scrutiny because the Panthers allowed defensive lineman Greg Hardy to keep playing after being arrested for beating and threatening a former girlfriend. Richardson broke down during his acceptance speech and the Panthers belatedly suspended Hardy with pay before severing ties with the former Pro Bowl lineman the following year. 

Two months ago, Richardson’s alma mater, Wofford College in Spartanburg, opened the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, a 3,400-seat basketball arena paid for by the Panthers owner. His wife’s name, Rosalind Sallenger Richardson, adorns an arts center opened last year on the college campus. In 2014, Wofford dedicated a sculpture of Richardson, a 1959 alumnus, that stands on the patio of the Richardson Physical Activities Building, a hub for the school’s teams that was renovated with a $1 million donation from the Panthers owner in 2008.
Wofford spokeswoman Laura Corbin told CBJ, “Mr. Richardson’s contributions to Wofford College are extraordinary, and for that we are grateful. It is not appropriate for us to comment further.”

In 2013, the Panthers owner donated $10 million to the Charlotte 49ers’ startup football program. In return, UNC Charlotte christened its $40 million, 15,000-seat football home as Jerry Richardson Stadium. Richardson and his close friend, retired Bank of America executive Hugh McColl Jr., have their names on the field. A UNCC spokesman said the university “has not discussed” removing Richardson’s name “and will not until the investigation is complete.”

Sports business consultant Marc Ganis, a confidant to a number of NFL owners, including Richardson, told CBJ he believes Richardson’s name should remain in place. (There is also a statue of the Panthers owner at the entrance to BofA Stadium; a team spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would stay after a new owner is named.)
Ganis said Richardson is the benefactor and deserves to have his name in place and because “he is a great man” who has helped many people. 

“There is no reason or cause to change other than the current media vortex which has conflated some legitimately awful actions with those that are far less so and which have been resolved by mutual agreement,” Ganis said. “We as a society will eventually find the right balance. It just takes some time.”

Cesar Torres, a sports ethics expert and professor at The College at Brockport State University of New York, told CBJ that colleges and others institutions “that have benefited from Richardson’s philanthropy should be concerned about their association with Richardson. There does not (sic) seem to be compelling reasons to maintain an association with a donor whose behavior contradicts, by being unlawful or unethical, an institution’s mission or values.” 

Francisco Javier Lopez Frias of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University pointed to differences between Richardson’s name being on college buildings and having a statue in front of the Panthers stadium.

“Professional sports teams don’t perform the same social function as universities and are often supported, especially economically speaking, by different social groups,” he said. “All these things must be taken into account when providing an ethical evaluation of when to keep or remove Richardson’s name.”

Ronnie Bryant, head of the nonprofit Charlotte Regional Partnership, told me this week his organization won’t discuss changing the name of its “Jerry Awards” — started in 2007 — until “after the dust settles.” The partnership will host its annual awards luncheon in March with

Richardson’s name still attached.

The NFL has said its investigation will go on as planned. (Initially, the Panthers issued a press release on Dec. 15 stating the team’s intention to investigate Richardson by hiring a California law firm and having Erskine Bowles, one of Richardson’s minority investors, oversee the inquiry. Those plans were scuttled two days later by the NFL.)

A league spokesman told reporters on a conference call soon after Richardson said he would sell the team that the Panthers will stay in Charlotte. What worries political and business leaders, and some fans, is that the team owns BofA Stadium, minimizing the attached strings if a new owner preferred another city. In addition, a public-private venture to renovate the stadium committing the Panthers to Charlotte expires in 2019.

Counters to these arguments include a home sellout streak dating to 2002, a stadium that will have undergone a five-year, $177 million overhaul by the end of 2018 and a home market with a rapidly growing population and corporate base.
Richardson is no longer even the titular head of the organization, having ceded day-to-day control to Tina Becker, the team’s chief operating officer, on Dec. 18. 

The team hired Becker in 1999 as coordinator of the cheerleaders. Before that, she was a member of the cheer squad, known as the TopCats. Later, she presided over stadium game-day entertainment before taking on broader roles focusing on the business side and representing the Panthers at league meetings.

Becker has declined all interview requests since the team disclosed her promotion. An accompanying press release included a quote from McColl, who said Becker “is committed ... to ensuring this organization is run in a professional and progressive manner.”

McColl’s bank helped fund Richardson’s campaign for an NFL expansion franchise in the late-1980s and early-1990s. McColl, too, has declined interview requests regarding Richardson and the Panthers. Richardson, who rarely spoke to reporters under normal circumstances, has yet to publicly address the harassment allegations and hasn’t granted any interviews.

Richardson and the Panthers hired New York boutique firm Allen & Co. to lead the franchise sale with legal advice from Proskauer Rose and Moore & Van Allen. The team is expected to sell in the range of $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion. Richardson and his investors paid $206 million for the expansion franchise in 1993. Richardson and his family own 48% of the Panthers.

As for the team itself, interim general manager Marty Hurney has said he hopes to keep the job on a full-time basis, but, so far, nothing has been decided. Richardson tapped Hurney last summer after abruptly firing Dave Gettleman, who is now running the New York Giants. Hurney preceded Gettleman but was fired by Richardson midway through the season in 2012. He had been out of the NFL since then, but steered the Panthers to the playoffs upon his return. 

Becker awarded head coach Ron Rivera this month with a two-year contract extension through 2020. Last week, Rivera replaced his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In February 2017, team president Danny Morrison unexpectedly resigned, saying he had been contemplating a return to college athletics. Morrison wasn’t replaced.