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Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson dies at 86

Jerry Richardson, the man who brought the NFL and Carolina Panthers to Charlotte, died. He was 86.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jerry Richardson, the man who brought the Carolina Panthers and NFL to the Carolinas in the early 1990s, died Wednesday, his former team announced. He was 86. 

Richardson was born in Spring Hope, North Carolina. He went on to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before playing in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts. 

Richardson was awarded the NFL's 29th franchise in October of 1993. The Panthers began competing in 1995, playing their home games at Clemson University until the new stadium was built in Uptown Charlotte. In just their second season, the Panthers reached the NFC Championship and appeared poised to take the league by storm. 

"Jerry Richardson's contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic," Panthers owners David and Nicole Tepper said in a statement Thursday. "With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful. Nicole and I extend our deepest condolences to Rosalind, the entire Richardson family, and their loved ones. We wish them much peace and comfort."

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Panthers head coach Frank Reich also shared his condolences, thanking Richardson for the opportunity to play for the team earlier in his career.

"I will always be thankful to Mr. Richardson for providing me with the opportunity to play for the Panthers. Being a part of the inaugural season is something that I will never forget. It was truly a special experience to play a part in the culmination of his efforts to bring football to the Carolinas," he said in a statement.

Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles also acknowledged Richardson's passing and his impact on the city in a tweet shared Thursday.

"Jerry Richardson, who brought the Panthers to Charlotte, was a key figure in the NFL and the Carolinas. His contributions to our community will not be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones," she said.

Following his own career as an NFL player, Richardson launched a business career in the Carolinas. He opened his first Hardee's restaurant in Spartanburg.

Richardson started the dream of an NFL team in the Carolinas in the late 1980s. He and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl discussed bringing a team to North Carolina as the now-Charlotte Hornets moved into town as the city's first professional sports franchise. 

Under Richardson's ownership, Carolina played in two Super Bowls, most recently in 2015 behind MVP quarterback Cam Newton. Richardson put the team up for sale in late 2017, with David Tepper taking ownership in 2018. 

Richardson was an alumnus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He donated to his alma mater for the construction of its indoor stadium, and further donated $150 million to the college in 2021, the largest gift in the school's history. 

That donation was designated for Wofford's endowment with a focus on need-based scholarships. Throughout his life, Richardson donated more than $260 million to the college.

Wofford College president Nayef Samhat shared this statement with WCNC Charlotte on Thursday in the wake of Richardson's passing: 

Mr. Richardson’s impact on Wofford College is immeasurable. I know of no one more generous with his time, wisdom and resources. While his gifts to the college and other organizations throughout the Carolinas are legendary, I will forever remember him for his quiet generosity and the gifts that didn’t capture headlines. So many have him to thank for kindnesses large and small. Our community sends condolences to Mrs. Richardson and his family. We will miss him greatly.

The Charlotte 49ers named their football stadium in Richardson's honor after numerous donations from him helped start up the university's football program in the 2010s. 

In response to Richardson's passing, the Charlotte 49ers released a statement:

"Charlotte sends the Richardson family our deepest condolences as we mourn his passing. We are grateful to Jerry Richardson for his longtime support of the University, especially his generous investment that helped make football a reality for our athletics program."

Jerry Richardson's controversial exit from the Panthers, NFL

Richardson decided to sell the team at the end of the 2017 NFL season following allegations of sexual misconduct. According to a Sports Illustrated investigation, Richardson paid off "significant monetary settlements" due to inappropriate workplace comments and conduct. Richardson was fined $2.75 million by the NFL following a league investigation into Richardson's conduct. 

Former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White substantiated allegations that the improper conduct was limited to Richardson and the team failed to report the allegations or any resolution agreements with the league. 

Tepper agreed to buy the Panthers for a reported $2.275 billion, which set a new U.S. record for a sports franchise at the time. The previous NFL record was $1.4 billion, paid by the Pegula family for the Buffalo Bills. 

Family spokesperson Jim Gray confirmed to WCNC Charlotte a public memorial service will be announced soon.

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