Civil rights group presses NFL to find black ownership for the Panthers

Civil rights group presses NFL to find black ownership for the Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill/The Charlotte Observer) - Saying it's "time for a change," the head of the National Urban League is urging the NFL to consider an African-American ownership group for the Carolina Panthers.

Urban League President Marc Morial made the request this week in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"At present, there are no African Americans in that very exclusive club of NFL owners," wrote Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans. "I write … to make it abundantly clear that we believe that it is time for a change."

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who founded the Panthers a quarter century ago, said in December that he'd sell the team at season's end. The statement came after Sports Illustrated reported that the 81-year-old owner had paid settlements to four employees over allegations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct.

Among possible buyers is at least one group of Charlotte business leaders. Felix Sabates, a minority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, is part of one group.

"I'm at a point now that I can no longer make any comments," Sabates said Friday.

Forbes Magazine has valued the franchise at $2.3 billion.

In his letter, Morial invoked the Rooney Rule. That's the NFL policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for coaching or front office jobs.

"The NFL's work in advancing the Rooney Rule has changed the landscape for for African American Head and Assistant Coaches," Morial wrote. "The remaining frontier is simply ownership."

Some prominent African-Americans have been mentioned as possible ownership partners. Entertainment mogul Diddy has expressed interest. So has Charlotte native and NBA star Steph Curry as well as former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina legislator and now a CNN commentator, called it "an amazing opportunity for the Carolinas and an amazing opportunity for the NFL."

"To have 70 percent of the players be African American and a large percentage of the (NFL) viewership be African American but to not have any of the ownership partners be African American," he said, "is stifling the growth of the NFL both here and abroad."

An NFL spokesman could not be reached for comment.