The Carolina Panthers announced on Friday night that the organization was conducting an investigation into claims of sexual harassment against owner Jerry Richardson. On Sunday morning the NFL announced it was taking over the investigation. Up to that point, no other details had been made public, but that changed when Sports Illustrated dropped a story detailing a number of allegations against Richardson.
The story featured a number of troubling and explosive accusations against Richardson, both regarding sexual harassment and racism. A former scout recently reached a settlement with the organization over the use of a racial slur by Richardson, and there were those that noted Richardson being referred to only as “Mister” (not Mister Richardson, but just Mister) carried an aura of a plantation mentality.
The piece opens with a remembrance of many employees of “Jeans Day” at the Panthers offices, where Richardson would make questionable and uncomfortable comments towards women about how they looked in their jeans.
Friday was Jeans Day, when most staffers at the Carolina Panthers team offices would wear denim to work. The female employees knew what that meant. As the team’s owner, Jerry Richardson, made his rounds on the way to his spacious office, he would ask women to turn around so he could admire their backsides. Then, in his rolling Southern drawl, he’d offer comment, drawing from a store of one-liners he’d recycle each week. Among those in heaviest rotation: Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up. I bet you had to lay down on your bed to fit into those jeans. Did you step into those jeans or did you have to jump into them?
That was the introduction to a pattern of harassment by Richardson in the story. The story notes Richardson would build the trust with women and slowly push and blur lines until it became uncomfortable, leading some women to leave the organization altogether. Among the details offered by the SI story are recollections by multiple female employees of Richardson offering to shave their legs himself.
But multiple former female employees recount that Richardson’s behavior began to feel like a violation when he spoke of their bodies. He had a special interest in female grooming, they say. He would notice when their nails were not up to his standards, and pay for them to get manicures. Multiple female employees recalled to SI that Richardson asked them if he could personally shave their legs.
The entire story is well worth a read, as it offers yet another example of a prominent and powerful male figure exerting his power over women he employed by pushing boundaries of decency in the workplace. It is a pattern of behavior that is common in the many recent stories that have come out about Harvey Weinstein and others. With the NFL taking over the investigation into the allegations, it will be very interesting to see what the results will bring and what the possible recourse will be from the NFL towards one of the league’s most powerful owners.