Jerry Richardson was a businessman and former NFL player who was best known as the founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers football team. Richardson had a long and successful career in business and sports, but his reputation was tarnished by allegations of workplace misconduct that led to his forced sale of the team.
Early Life and Career
Jerry Richardson was born on July 18, 1936, in Spring Hope, North Carolina. He grew up in poverty, and his father died when he was nine years old. Despite these challenges, Richardson excelled in sports, particularly football. He attended Wofford College in South Carolina, where he played football and baseball and earned a degree in business.
After college, Richardson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts of the NFL. He played for two seasons as a wide receiver, but his career was cut short by a knee injury. Richardson then turned to business, starting out as a salesman for a food service company. He later founded a chain of fast-food restaurants called Hardee’s, which became a huge success
Jerry Richardson had a $2 billion dollar net worth in 2023.
When the Carolinas were unanimously selected as the NFL’s 29th team, Jerry Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to hold the position of owner. Jerry Richardson contributed the majority of the $206 million, which Richardson and a group of minority partners used to buy the franchise rights.
The Panthers are currently valued at between $1.6 and $2 billion. The team brings in $325 million a year in revenue and makes $80 million in profit.
Amazingly, Jerry’s entire business was founded with a check from an NFL bonus, and the fast food industry was where he made the most of his early wealth. After the Baltimore Colts won the championship in 1959, Jerry used his $4744 bonus check to invest in the first Hardee’s restaurant in the nation.
He started Flagstar Foods with Charlie Bradshaw, a teammate from their college days. Flagstar continued to grow over the following several decades, eventually controlling 2500 restaurants with 100,000 staff members.
Founding the Carolina Panthers
Founding the Carolina Panthers in the late 1980s, Richardson became interested in bringing an NFL team to his name. He assembled a group of investors and worked with local officials to secure funding for a stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1993, the NFL awarded the city an expansion team, and Richardson was named the team’s owner.
The Carolina Panthers played their first season in 1995 and quickly became a competitive team. In 2003, they reached the Super Bowl but lost to the New England Patriots. Richardson was widely respected as an owner who cared deeply about his team and its fans. He was known for treating players and employees like family and for being a generous philanthropist.
Controversies and Forced Sale of the Team
In 2017, however, Richardson’s reputation took a hit when allegations of workplace misconduct surfaced. Sports Illustrated reported that Richardson had paid settlements to at least four former Panthers employees who had accused him of sexual harassment and racist language. The NFL launched an investigation, and Richardson announced that he would sell the team at the end of the season.
The sale of the Panthers was completed in 2018 for a reported $2.275 billion, a record amount for an NFL team. The new owner, hedge fund manager David Tepper, pledged to create a more inclusive and diverse culture within the organization.
Jerry Richardson’s legacy is a complicated one. On the one hand, he was a successful businessman and a beloved figure in the Carolinas. He was instrumental in bringing an NFL team to Charlotte and in building a winning franchise. He was also a generous philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to charity.
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