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Panthers' Richardson pushes NFL into #metoo era


By all rights, Sunday should have been a really good day for Jerry Richardson.

The Carolina Panthers team that he owns won a big NFL game, defeating the Green Bay Packers.

The victory moved the club ever closer to a playoff berth and considering that the Panthers didn’t get to the postseason last year, things are looking finer in Richardson’s owner’s box.

Except that it won’t be his playpen for much longer. Richardson announced through a statement that he will sell the Panthers when the season is completed, following a published report Sunday alleging sexual misconduct.

Sunday’s announcement marked a stunning turn of events for the 81-year-old Richardson, the only owner the Panthers have had since they were founded in 1995.

In the process, the NFL in particular and sports in general joined entertainment, politics and the newsroom as institutions that have been rocked to their core by a long overdue reckoning.

The treatment of issues relating to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in our country has been nothing short of embarrassing to this point.

It’s way past time that we as a culture make our offices, playgrounds, and yes, the athletic arena free from this shoddy behavior.

Many, including yes, me, are surprised that men like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly got caught before men like Jerry Richardson.

Not because their conduct was any less egregious than Richardson, who was accused in a devastating Sports Illustrated piece of creating a workplace in the Panthers offices in Charlotte that demeaned and humiliated female and minority employees.

No, the shock is that the lid wasn’t blown off sports first, as many athletic organizations are breeding grounds for some of the worst treatment of women who are just trying to do a job in a male-dominated, testosterone-driven world.

In Richardson’s case, SI reported that the owner would allegedly summon women to his office, where Richardson would request foot massages and back rubs that extended to the lower back.

The magazine reported that Richardson, who fancied himself as a Southern gentleman would employ what women called the seatbelt maneuver, whereupon he would insist on helping female lunch guests with their seatbelts in the car.

As he reached across the women to buckle the belt, it’s alleged that he would frequently brush against their breasts before fastening them in.

Initially, the Panthers were going to conduct their own internal investigation, led by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who owns a minority share of the team.

However, when new allegations emerged, the league stepped in, saying its investigators would take over.

It’s not too far a stretch to wonder if the NFL’s interest in getting to the heart of the matter is as much fueled by a desire to protect other owners whose conduct might be exposed as it is to root out the behavior.

Jerry Richardson, who played here in Baltimore with the Colts 60 years ago, wants to hold onto his Panthers through the end of the season.

In a different era, his wish might be fulfilled. But we’re not in that era any more, and thank goodness for that.

And that’s how I see it for this week.