Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson died Wednesday night at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was 86.
Richardson was celebrated for bringing the NFL to Carolina in 1995, but his tenure with the team ended after the 2017 season amid allegations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct.
“Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolina’s are historic,” current owners David and Nicole Tepper said in a statement. “With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own.
“He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful.”
We are saddened to hear about the passing of former owner Jerry Richardson. pic.twitter.com/9Cjn0PSYW2
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 2, 2023
Richardson was forced to sell the team to Tepper for a then NFL-record $2.275 billion after the 2017 season amid allegations of sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace.
He was fined $2.75 million by the NFL after an extensive investigation into the allegations following a story by Sports Illustrated in which four former employees anonymously stated they reached a financial settlement with Richardson in exchange for silence.
Before that, Richardson was revered for bringing the Panthers to the NFL in 1995 and helping the team reach Super Bowls after the 2003 and 2015 seasons. He served on some of the league’s most prestigious committees and had become one of the more powerful owners.
John Fox, who coached the Panthers from 2002 to 2010 and led them to the Super Bowl in 2003, told ESPN on Thursday that he and his family are “thankful” for the opportunity Richardson gave them.
“Jerry Richardson brought NFL football to the Carolinas!” Fox said from the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera, who led Carolina to the Super Bowl in 2015, sent his condolences on Twitter.
“I will always be grateful to him for the opportunity to coach the Carolina Panthers & for his patient, steadfast leadership during 7 seasons,” Rivera posted. “Condolences to Rosalind, Ashley, & Mark and the Richardson family.”
Richardson was born in Spring Hope, North Carolina, in 1936. He attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he was a star tight end, and still holds the school’s single-game record for receiving yards (241 against Newberry College in 1956 ).
He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.
He took the money earned from that game and started the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg. He ultimately became a millionaire and used that money to purchase the Panthers for $206 million.
He was dedicated to making the Panthers the team of the Carolinas, building Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and making Wofford College the long-time home of the team’s training camp.
Former Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis, who played for Carolina from 2005 to 2018, summed up what many players thought of Richardson with this post on Instagram.
”I’m literally at a loss for words. For me to try to explain to you guys what this man has meant to me and my family and so many others would take a lifetime,” Davis posted. “Mr. Richardson taught me so many life lessons over the years and I will forever be grateful for the friendship and the bond that we had. I am truly heartbroken and sad over the loss of my friend.
“I was able to become the player that I became because of him, because he encouraged and motivated me to Keep Pounding. When I went through my injuries and everyone told him it was time to move on and turn the page he said no. He believed in me when no one else did. He gave me a chance when no one else would! … Please keep the Richardson family in your prayers today! Rest up my friend!”
Former Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, who played for Carolina from 2011 to 2019, revealed in a video message on Twitter that his son TJ, who was born with hypo-plastic left heart syndrome that initially required four open heart surgeries, was named in part after Richardson as the “J” is Jerry.
“I didn’t know Mr. Richardson very well at all,” Olsen said. “He called me and told my wife and I to meet him at the airport, and he put us on his plane and took us up to Boston Children’s Hospital to make sure we got the best care and the best team to look at him.
“The point of the story is not so much about TJ and our family, as much as it was the love of the man, and the love he had for a player he didn’t owe a lot to. … I’d been here for one season and we’d won six games. But I was a player on his team who needed help and he was able to provide it. … He was my boss. He was not a close personal friend at the time . And he went above and beyond to bring love and comfort to a family at its toughest time.”
No cause was given for Richardson’s death. In 2009, he had a successful heart transplant at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
The family is planning a private funeral service. A public celebration of his life will be held at a later date.