CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was surprised and disappointed to learn on Sunday that owner Jerry Richardson, amidst allegations of workplace misconduct, planned to put the team up for sale after the 2017 season.
But Rivera said made it clear the Panthers, 10-4 and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South, will continue to “go forward” with their playoff push and let the investigation by the NFL into Richardson’s conduct play out.
Sports Illustrated published an article on Sunday that said the organization settled financially with a least four employees regarding Richardson’s improper behavior in the workplace.
The allegations ranged from sexual harassment to Richardson using a racial slur with a former team scout.
“They’re all very serious,” Rivera said Monday of the allegations. “I do have a lot of concern about it. To be honest with you, I have not read them. I’m not dismissing them, because I’m going to wait until the investigation is done before I draw any conclusions. I think that’s the only fair thing to do. I don’t want to have anything altering my thought process.
“The investigation will take a life of its own. I believe it will be a thorough one. And remember, Mr. Richardson was the one that pushed for this to begin with.”
Rivera’s focus will be on preparing for Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with a victory.
Rivera spoke on Monday to his players about Richardson’s decision to sell since the news broke after they departed Bank of America Stadium following Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Green Bay. He reminded their focus should be on football just as it has when the team has faced other off-the-field distractions in the past.
“I don’t know how much different it is from some of the things we’ve dealt with,” he said. “The thing that again we all have to understand is the serious nature of these allegations and who they affect.
“For the most part, these people need to be heard, respect what they have to say and again let the process take its course.”
Rivera said he spoke with Richardson Sunday night just before the owner announced his decision to sell in a letter posted on the team website.
“He was terrific in terms of our conversation,” said Rivera, declining to elaborate on specifics of the conversation.
Rivera said he hoped new ownership keeps the team in Charlotte. Richardson in 2013 made a deal when the city agreed to pay for upgrades to the stadium that the team would be tethered to Charlotte through the 2018 season.
“This organization has had a tremendous impact on the Carolinas,” Rivera said. “It has helped the growth of this city and this community. It’s been a source of pride and good will. I’d like to see it continue.
“This is a great community, a very supportive fan base that’s been out there for us. I hope that somehow it’s able to stay here.”
As for the allegations, Rivera said he wouldn’t make a judgment until the investigation is over.
“Not to discount the serious nature of these allegations, for us, for what we do, we’re here to play football,” he said. “It’s important that we remember that. These allegations don’t change what we do. So we’ve got to go out and focus on getting ready for Tampa Bay.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who grew up in Charlotte, also hopes the team doesn’t move elsewhere.
One of the top African-American head coaching candidates in the NFL, Wilks said he never heard Richardson use a racial slur.
“In my six years around here I never encountered anything around here of that sorts,” he said. “Never have I heard of that. I’m just going to wait and see exactly what comes through the investigation.”