A former teammate of Johnny Unitas, who caught a touchdown pass in the Baltimore Colts’ win over the New York Giants in the 1959 NFL championship game, Mr. Richardson played for two years before venturing into the restaurant business and using his championship bonus money to help to open first Hardees in Spartanburg, SC
He made his fortune in the restaurant business and became chief executive officer of Flagstar, then the sixth largest food service company in the country. A North Carolina native, Mr. Richardson spent years convincing the NFL to put a team in the Carolinas and eventually had success with a relatively original concept of financing a new stadium through the sale of permanent seat licenses.
Carolina began playing in 1995 and Mr. Richardson quickly built the Panthers into one of the league’s flagship franchises while also becoming an influential figure in the NFL. He sat on several high-level homeowners’ committees and played a key role in labor negotiations with the players’ union.
But Mr. Richardson’s reputation took a huge hit when he announced he was selling the Panthers on December 17, 2017 — the same day Sports Illustrated reported that four former Panthers employees were killed for inappropriate sexually suggestive language and actions by Mr Richardson. It was also reported that he used a racial slur against a team scout.
He sold the team to David Tepper, a hedge fund owner, in 2018 for a then-NFL-record $2.27 billion. The following month, the NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million for alleged workplace misconduct.
Mr Richardson has never publicly addressed the allegations against him.
Jerome Johnson Richardson Sr. was born on July 18, 1936 in Spring Hope, a small town in eastern North Carolina. According to the Charlotte Observer, his father was a hairdresser and his mother was a clerk in a clothing store. Her house had no indoor plumbing.
An only child, Jerry played football in high school and received a partial scholarship to play at Wofford College in South Carolina, where he graduated in 1959. He was drafted in the 13th round by the Baltimore Colts.
After purchasing the Panthers, Tepper said he was “obligated by contract” to keep the statue of Mr. Richardson flanked by two Panthers outside of the Richardson-built stadium in downtown Charlotte.
But in June 2020, the Panthers removed the statue and said they were concerned there might be attempts to take the statue down due to protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd.
The team said that “moving the statue is in the interest of public safety.” It was never returned.
Although Mr. Richardson once promised that the Panthers would win a Super Bowl “within 10 years” of the game starting in 1995, they never did. The team reached the Super Bowl in the 2003 and 2015 seasons, but lost both times.
The lack of consistency irritated Mr. Richardson, as Carolina failed to put together consecutive winning seasons during his 23 seasons as owner, despite hiring four coaches: Dom Capers, George Seifert, John Fox and Ron Rivera.
Mr. Richardson was well liked by those who played and trained under him. Quarterback Jake Delhomme, who led the Panthers to their first Super Bowl in the 2003 season, said Mr. Richardson is highly respected in the locker room and “great for me and every player that played for him.”
Delhomme recalls getting a call from Mr. Richardson a few days after a disastrous four-turnover performance in a 2008 season in a 33-13 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
“He calls and says, ‘Jake, the sun came out on me today, did it come out on you?'” Delhomme said Thursday. “I said, ‘Yes sir, it did.’ He said, “That’s good – everything will be fine.” And then he hung up.”
When linebacker Thomas Davis retired in 2021, he thanked Richardson for believing in him and keeping him on the roster despite tearing three cruciate ligaments in the same knee.
Conservative by nature, Mr. Richardson once warned Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton against getting tattoos and piercings after he drafted the No. 1 overall quarterback in 2011, over fears it would would damage its image. He also had a policy that said fans were not allowed to remove their jerseys during games.
But Mr. Richardson’s tenure was marred by off-field troubles.
He fired his two sons – Mark, the team president, and Jon, the director of stadium operations – after a sibling dispute at the stadium in front of other staff while recovering from a heart transplant in 2009. At the time it was reckoned that one of the sons could inherit the team, but that never happened. Jon Richardson died of cancer in 2013.
In 2000, wide receiver Rae Carruth, the team’s 1997 first-round draft pick, was convicted of murder and conspiracy in connection with the death of his pregnant girlfriend. Carruth was imprisoned for 16 years.
Three months later, running back Fred Lane, who had just been sold to Indianapolis, was shot dead by his wife at their Charlotte home. And defensive end Greg Hardy was suspended after he was arrested for making threats after allegedly throwing his girlfriend on furniture and threatening to kill her. He was later released.
Mr Richardson is survived by his wife Rosalind, son Mark and daughter Ashley Richardson Allen.