CHARLOTTE — A statue of Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson has been removed from the spot where it stood outside the team’s stadium for nearly 25 years. The statue of Richardson was removed Wednesday from Bank of America Stadium, without any warning or ceremony.
Channel 9 reporter Joe Bruno reported that the Department of Transportation was closing the road in front of the stadium in order to remove the statue.
A Panthers’ official told Channel 9 that there would be active construction taking place Wednesday to move the statue. The Charlotte DOT said it would be keeping the road near the statue, South Graham Street, closed until 8 p.m.
The statue has been controversial ever since allegations of sexism and racism against Richardson forced him to sell the team in 2018. Richardson announced in 2017 that he was putting the team up for sale after a Sports Illustrated report, citing unidentified sources, said he made sexually suggestive comments to women and directed a racial slur at an African American team scout.
Video from Chopper 9 Skyzoom showed a huge crane lifting the statue from its pedestal and onto a flatbed tractor-trailer.
A source confirmed to Channel 9 reporter DaShawn Brown that the statue of Richardson was being moved to an undisclosed location because of “public safety concerns.”
The Panthers later tweeted, “We were aware of the most recent conversation surrounding the Jerry Richardson statue and are concerned there may be attempts to take it down. We are moving the statue in the interest of public safety.”
A team spokesperson told Channel 9 it is still unclear if the removal of the statue from the stadium is permanent, but that it will not be destroyed.
The artist who created the statue, Todd Andrews, told Channel 9 he wasn’t contacted by the Panthers about the removal. He said he did speak to them about a month ago about two of the original Panther statutes being removed near one of the entrances in order to widen it. Andrews said he’s disappointed the statue is being taken down and that it’s sad because Richardson “was the guy that brought football to Charlotte.”
As part of his deal to buy the Panthers in 2018, current owner David Tepper said he was “contractually obligated” to keep the 13-foot statue where it stands outside the stadium. The city of Charlotte owns the land, and the Panthers pay $1 in rent each year.
Before selling the team, Richardson faced allegations of workplace misconduct. An NFL investigation found that Richardson made payouts for workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment. On June 28, 2018, Richardson was fined $2.75 million for that workplace misconduct.
Richardson has faced other allegations of discrimination. In the 1990s, the company that owned Denny’s, which Richardson ran, faced several lawsuits alleging mistreatment of black customers. Richardson reached an agreement with the NAACP to increase the number of black owners, managers and employees with the restaurant.
Reached for comment Wednesday, Richardson’s spokesperson, Jim Gray offered the following statement:
“Mr. Richardson has made no public comments about the Panthers or the NFL since the sale of the team and doesn’t plan to do so now as a private citizen. He has worked to treat all people fairly in his business and personal lives and, like many other Americans, is troubled by recent events in Minneapolis, Charlotte and around the country.”
Onlookers gathered across from the stadium Wednesday afternoon to watch crews hoist the statue into the air and place it on a flatbed truck to be hauled away. Many said they were happy the Panthers are moving on.
“To be honest, when I walked up I was like, ‘Oh my God, they are taking it down,’” said Bridgett Hayes. “But then I found out the history and I was like, ‘Take it all the way down.’”
After 13 nights of protesting against systemic racism in Charlotte, Hayes said the timing feels appropriate.
“Yesterday was paint in the street, Black Lives Matter. Today they are taking down the statue. So I’m just very happy and proud that change is happening,” she said.
The statues of both panthers that flanked Richardson on the display were also removed.
It ended up taking a little longer than expected to remove the statues after crews had some trouble removing one of the cats. They had to call in for a new tool in order to lift it out of place.
The statues have been moved to an undisclosed location.
Sports reporter Matt Harris spoke with one of the Panthers’ most outspoken players about the removal of the statue.
Tre Boston said it’s best for the community that the statue came down. He told Channel 9 that the statue wasn’t a good representation of the players or the organization.
The Panthers gave Boston his start in the NFL when they were owned by Richardson. Now in his second stint with the franchise, he said a big part of his coming back had to do with the team being under new ownership.
Boston said with David Tepper, the atmosphere around the organization has been ”a complete 180.”
Boston mentioned there could be other great statues that could be erected to replace Richardson, including Steve Smith and Julius Peppers.
Richardson brought NFL football to the Carolinas in 1993 when he became the first former NFL player since George Halas to own a team. The Panthers began playing two years later in 1995.
The statue was a gift from the Panthers LLC minority partners to Richardson for his 80th birthday in 2016.
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