While it’s still unclear who will become the new owner of the Carolina Panthers, the founding owner of the franchise remains mired in controversy after Sports Illustrated published a report in December detailing allegations against Jerry Richardson that included both sexual and racial harassment.
Hours before publishing the report, the Panthers announced an internal investigation into Richardson’s behavior, an investigation the NFL quickly took over, though we know now that the league is as toothless on this matter as the Panthers.
And hours after SI’s story, Carolina announced that Richardson was stepping down and would be selling the team.
Now, one of Richardson’s victims, who took a monetary settlement and signed an NDA effectively buying her silence, is sharing her story, through open letters to numerous individuals, and published on the Sports Illustrated website.
She was emboldened to do so, she writes, after seeing comments from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair on March 25 defending Richardson, telling USA Today columnist Jarrett Bell that he was “sure” Richardson “didn’t mean to offend anybody” and that some of Richardson’s comments – including referring to a black team scout as a racial slur and comments of a sexual nature made to numerous women in the team office – “could have been made jokingly.”
(SI reports that Richardson has made it clear he will not release those who signed non-disclosure agreements from them, meaning they’d be giving up the settlement money they accepted if they speak to the NFL’s investigator, Mary Jo White. While many are willing to speak to White, they are not willing to jeopardize their financial payouts. Since White cannot offer those individuals immunity, the investigation seemingly isn’t going anywhere.)
Victim to Richardson: ‘Do you realize how much you hurt me?’
The woman emphasizes that as owner of the team she worked for – she worked on the football side of the franchise – she knew that there was no one above Richardson, no one to hand down consequences for his abhorrent behavior.
She has since been proven right, at least when it comes to the NFL’s investigation.
“As the owner of the Carolina Panthers, you created a work environment that discriminated against women—in a field that is already inherently gender-biased,” she wrote. “As a female Panthers staffer who worked directly in football, unlike males who worked directly in football, I was not allowed in the locker room, weight room or team hallways. I was not allowed to eat in the football lunchroom, was not given a staff locker, was not allowed to fly on the team plane. I was not given team attire, was not allowed at practice, was not paid equally.
“Your enablers told me to go to lunch with you even if I had already eaten or was in the middle of work. They told me to answer the phone when you called me. They told me to do whatever you asked, whether that meant driving you places, going to your home, carrying your things, meeting you in your personal office or game day suite. They told me to give you handwritten thank you notes to express my gratitude to you and to reiterate how great you are.
“Fear and intimidation abound in the environment you created. So does sexual harassment.
“You are the owner. You told me you have all of the power, that you held authority regarding all team and numerous league-related matters, including handpicking Roger Goodell. Your 6-foot-3 stature, deliberate upright gait and turned down mouth, the way you like to tightly hold people’s arm to lead them, and your harsh tone….
“I didn’t know what to do when you started leaving me suggestive handwritten notes, insisting that I reply and then destroy the note. I didn’t know what to do when you summoned me to your personal office, instructed me to sit in the chair across from you, pulled my chair towards you so you could sandwich my legs, which you proceeded to rub, between yours. I didn’t know what to do when you called me to your stadium suite in the middle of the week so you could take off my shoes, place my legs in your lap and rub their entire length, from toes to crotch. I didn’t know what to do when you asked me to turn around so you could see how my jeans looked. I didn’t know what to do when you brushed my breasts to put my seat belt around me in the front seat of your car. I didn’t know what to do when you put your hands on my mouth, for me to kiss them. I didn’t know what to do when you asked me uncomfortable, sexually charged questions.
I didn’t know what to do. So, I did what you told me to do.”
She also says to Richardson, “Do you realize how much you hurt me? I don’t trust anyone because of you. I couldn’t have a real relationship because of you. I have low self-esteem because of you. I am insecure because of you. I suffered from anxiety and depression because of you. I feel shame because of you. I am a damaged person because of you.”
The woman also kept at least some of the notes she received from Richardson, handing them over to SI:
One of them reads:
“You did not answer my questions – –
Do you think of me as:
1. Your grandfather
2. Your second father
3. Your second husband
4. Your friend
5. Your boyfriend
6. Or something else
I regret I have never been able to give you pleasure”
Victim says McNair has ‘no clue or compassion’
The woman’s first letter is to McNair, and she begins by thanking him; McNair’s comments indicated that Richardson had candidly shared his side of the story with other owners, meaning he had broken the non-disclosure agreement, freeing the woman up to “speak my truth.”
“Jerry Richardson calling my friend, who is a well-liked and respected scout, a ‘n—–‘ cannot be taken out of context or misunderstood, and it could never be construed as a joke. For you to say that offends me; I can’t even imagine the heartache he’s had to endure,” she wrote. “But, that’s his truth to tell.
“As for me, I did not misunderstand any of Jerry Richardson’s comments to me. They were clear. He wrote down many of them in notes so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding. And, regardless of what his intentions were—you’ll have to ask him that question—he sexually harassed and assaulted me. That is my truth.”
Victim takes aim at NFL, Ron Rivera, and Richardson’s myriad enablers
To the NFL, she writes in part, “Let me get this straight. You say you are doing a thorough investigation of ‘workplace misconduct’ of Jerry Richardson. Through my attorney, I let you know that I am indeed a victim of such ‘misconduct’ and have information for you—but you cannot protect me. Got it. You have zero power, and that makes your investigation a farce.
“This was confirmed when Jerry Richardson’s personal attorneys told my attorney that Jerry Richardson had NO intention of turning over any information or signed NDAs to you, and that I had better not give you any information either, or I would be in strict violation of the NDA. Seems everyone keeps perpetuating fear. It’s a theme in my truth.
“You need to know that not talking about or hearing my truth does not make it go away.”
And the woman is galled by the Panthers’ coach, who broke a team huddle after the story of his numerous allegations by demanding, “Mr. Richardson on three!”
“How insensitive you are to not only my truth, but to the truth of your scout, current and former Panthers staff, and even the victims of other perpetrators,” she writes. “You are part of the reason this behavior is condoned and continues….
“I get it. Jerry Richardson decided whether you have a job or not. Next time, at least choose silence. Again, this is such a huge part of my point—Jerry Richardson is the Carolina Panthers OWNER, and there is no one above him, no one to hold HIM accountable.”
In a statement to SI after the magazine’s request for comment, the Panthers say in part, “Since December 2017, when we commenced an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct, the organization has taken the appropriate steps to remediate any misconduct and ensure a safe and comfortable work environment. These claims are very serious and we have cooperated with the NFL’s investigation and remain fully committed to improving every facet of our organization. Because this matter continues to be under an ongoing legal review, we will not comment publicly on the specifics of the allegations, but we do feel compelled to establish what we are doing to provide a healthy work environment.”
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