“I’m very sad,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday evening. “Jerry is one of the really, really, really outstanding men of football that I’ve ever met, and I really admire him. I know that he made it the old-fashioned way. He worked for it. He took what he made in a short time in pro football and turned it into a great business and then used that to get the Carolina franchise. So he’s a great story.”
He’s a great story, but he’s also the focus of multiple workplace harassment allegations that were apparently serious enough that he decided to sell the Panthers in the space of 72 hours. Sports Illustrated published an in-depth look at Richardson’s conduct in the halls of Panthers HQ, conduct that included sizing up female employees’ figures in jeans and highly questionable commentary about and at African-Americans, then allegedly paying settlements to resolve and conceal complaints. “Mister,” as everyone in the Panthers organization called Richardson, has apparently lived his life one way even as the rest of society has trended another, very different way.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson walks on the field before Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
(L-R) Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, retiring commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson pose after Goodell was named the league's new chief executive in Northbrook, Illinois, August 8, 2006. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES)
Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, makes a statement after negotiations collapsed between the National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) in Washington March 11, 2011. The last real hope for a quick end to the dispute ended when the union representing the players (NFLPA) filed a court application to dissolve itself after failing to reach an agreement with league and owners over a range of issues. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS)
Carolina Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson, right, arrives in the owner's box at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 prior to the team's game against the Green Bay Packers. Sports Illustrated reported Sunday that at least four former Carolina Panthers employees have received 'significant' monetary settlements as a result of inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by owner Jerry Richardson The conduct, Sports Illustrated reported, included 'sexually suggestive language and behavior, and on at least one occasion directing a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout.' (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 17: The Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson shakes hands with Corey Brown #10 of the Carolina Panthers before their game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on November 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24: (L-R) Head coach Ron Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers smile after defeating the Arizona Cardinals with a score of 49 to 15 in the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24: (L-R) Retired American professional stock car racing driver Jeff Gordon talks with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson prior to the NFC Championship Game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24: Team Owner Jerry Richardson (R) of the Carolina Panthers is interviewed by Terry Bradshaw after the NFC Championship Gameagainst the Arizona Cardinals at Bank Of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson talk prior to game time at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday, October 21, 2012. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Carolina Panthers, 19-14. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
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“He’ll be the first to tell you he’s had a blessed life,” Jones said. “I’m really sad. I want all of those kind of men we can have in the National Football League.” It’s entirely up to you to read Jones’ line about “all those kind of men” however you wish.
Richardson may be pulling the ripcord on the NFL to avoid a situation like the one that befell Donald Sterling, another man from a bygone era who saw his name and reputation shredded after revelations about his conduct while owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Richardson was already the target of an NFL investigation into his workplace, and selling the team might be enough to get the league off his back.
The NFL ownership fraternity is an exclusive group of billionaires, and it stands to reason that they’d protect one another in the face of any challenge. What will be fascinating to watch is how the owners are able to stand up to the NFL as it is today: challenges from all sides, hitting all at once.