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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 1:00 am

NFL

Deal leaves in place statue of ex-Panthers owner

STEVE REED | Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper would like the focus to be on his plans for the team's future, he cannot completely put the franchise's sullied past behind him.

Tepper has to keep the prominent statue of Panthers' founder Jerry Richardson outside of the stadium as part of the NFL-record $2.2 billion deal he agreed to in December after Richardson decided to sell the team amid reports of sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace.

Tepper said Tuesday when he was introduced as the team's new owner that he's “contractually obligated” to keep a 13-foot high statue of Richardson standing alongside two growling panthers where it is.

The league substantiated the allegations against Richardson after a six-month investigation and fined him $2.75 million.

Fans have expressed their desire on social media and sports talk shows to remove the statue, which was built in 2016.

And while Tepper said contractually he can't do that, Tuesday he spoke repeatedly about changing the environment of the Panthers workplace.

Tepper said there will be “no impediment” in employees feeling comfortable in taking any concerns up the ladder on the business side of the organization.

He wants to create an environment where “everybody feels safe like a family.”

Sports Illustrated reported in December, citing unnamed sources, that Richardson made sexually suggestive comments to women and on at least one occasion directed a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout. The report states that he reached settlements that included non-disclosure requirements forbidding the parties from discussing the details.

“Listen, whatever was, was. This is now,” Tepper said. “This is going to be an open place. So there are not going to be non-disclosure agreements, no matter what in this new place. That was then, this is now.”

The Panthers are only tied to Charlotte through June 2019 in terms of a stadium agreement, but Tepper reiterated the city is “the most logical place” to keep the team, although adding that a “redo” is necessary.

The city of Charlotte and the Panthers reached agreement on improvements for the team's stadium in 2013. The plan called for the city to contribute about $87 million for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in exchange for a six-year hard tether to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.