My open letter to the person who buys the Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson and becomes the team’s new majority owner sometime in 2018:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Congratulations on your purchase of one of the NFL’s finest franchises. If run properly, your new NFL team should provide you with decades of enjoyment.
So, since I have covered the best and the worst of the Panthers ever since the team was born in 1995, let me give you 13 pieces of advice.
1. Don’t leave Charlotte.
This is the most important rule: You must stay.
The Panthers have sold out more than 150 games in a row at Bank of America Stadium, thanks in large part to the permanent-seat license concept that guarantees ticket sales in good times and bad. Charlotte is booming. Your stadium was built in 1996 but has been upgraded substantially and should be able to host the NFL for years to come.
So leave well enough alone. Renegotiate with the city, sign a long-term “hard tether” with Charlotte and be done with the question of moving.
2. Don’t disappear.
Richardson was the subject of an explosive story in Sports Illustrated published online Sunday that alleged sexual harassment and all sorts of workplace misconduct and hush-money payoffs. Did the 81-year-old owner apologize or defend himself publicly? No, he didn’t.
Instead, Richardson suddenly, shockingly, put the team up for sale. Then he stepped away from day-to-day control of the Panthers – making Tina Becker the new Chief Operating Officer on Monday. All this came in the span of less than 28 hours. And both the “I’m selling the team” and “I’m stepping away” press releases came without ever mentioning the allegations. Rome is falling, and Richardson would like us to think that his selling the team and relinquishing day-to-day control is all a big coincidence.
This lack of communication would be a surprise except for the fact that Richardson has held exactly one real press conference over the past 13 years. And that one – in early 2011, following the firing of John Fox – is remembered mainly for the awkward interchange Richardson had with local TV anchor Morgan Fogarty when he told her to come sit in the front row because she had “abused” him in the past.
You could hardly be less transparent than Richardson has been over the past decade. The problem has been exacerbated by Richardson being over-protected and coddled by a group of loyal employees and friends.
You are the new owner. You have to do it differently. Make yourself available. Smile. And talk to the local reporters, who after all are only stand-ins for thousands of fans.
3. Don’t raise ticket prices for two years as a show of good faith.
Yes, this will cost you some money. But it will buy you a lot of goodwill. And you have a lot of money already, or you wouldn’t be buying an NFL team.
4. Get that NFL shield off the 50-yard line.
OK, sure, the NFL is important. It’s fine to put the league logo somewhere less prominent, like on each 20-yard line.
But put the Panthers logo in the center of the field, where it belongs. Almost every other NFL team does this. Richardson would never do this. You should.
5. Expand the Panthers’ hall of honor.
As I have long said, it’s not a hall right now – it’s a closet. It contains exactly one person who ever played a down for Carolina (the late Sam Mills). Induct a class of at least three former players in 2019 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Panthers, and make sure that class includes both Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith.
6. Keep Pounding.
Not everything needs to change around the culture of the Panthers. The team slogan “Keep Pounding” is one of the best things the team has ever embraced, for instance. That must stay. So must the free public scrimmage in August in Charlotte and all the free training-camp practices in Spartanburg.
7. Don’t be creepy.
This should go without saying. But the Sports Illustrated report was full of allegations that sounded, well, creepy. (Richardson asking for foot massages from some female employees and wondering if he could shave their legs, for instance.)
The new owner – that’s you – has to be absolutely above reproach on a personal level. With Becker’s help, you should also institute a new round of diversity training and community outreach within the team.
8. Think hard about moving the statue.
The 13-foot statue of Jerry Richardson erected in front of the stadium in 2016 by his partners can stay – for a little while longer, at least.
But if the NFL’s investigation (which will continue, it was confirmed Monday, despite Richardson’s lame-duck owner status) finds most off the Sports Illustrated allegations to be true, the statue needs to go.
In that case, it doesn’t have to be toppled. Just have someone haul it off and give it to the Richardson family – they can put it somewhere private.
9. Don’t have people refer to you as “Mister,” with no surname.
This always struck me as odd and anachronistic, but Panthers employees simply accepted it after awhile. It was: “Mister said this” and “Mister did that” and “Mister needs to see you.”
It sounded way too much like what you would call a plantation owner, not someone who owned a football team. Here’s a thought: Have people call you by your first name.
10. Keep Ron Rivera as coach and Marty Hurney as general manager.
Again, there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Rivera is about to get the 10-4 Panthers to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Hurney, now the interim GM, has made a series of good moves to help him get there (including the controversial trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin).
11. Don’t be afraid of temporary unpopularity.
The day will come that the Panthers must part ways with quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, as hard as that is to imagine now. And there will be worse days than those.
Your mission is to serve the long-term good and let the coaches and players worry about the short term. You must always be ethical, and know that even so, you will not always be loved.
12. Don’t be cheap.
Again, you’re buying an NFL team, so you have a lot of money already. Don’t try to squeeze fans for every cent they can give you. They love the Panthers. You own the Panthers. It should be a beautiful partnership.
13. Don’t screw it up.
Please, just don’t. Because we have seen that happen. And it’s a real mess.