Are Panthers giving minorities a fair shake in general manager, ownership searches?

Are Panthers giving minorities a fair shake in general manager, ownership searches?

CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - While Carolina Panthers interim general manager Marty Hurney waits for the NFL to finish its investigation into allegations he harassed his ex-wife, the three minority candidates who interviewed for the general manager job also remain in limbo.

With the GM search on hold, the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance says he's satisfied the Panthers acted in accordance with the Rooney rule and is willing to let the league's investigation play out.

Fritz Pollard chairman John Wooten, whose group works to promote diversity in NFL leadership positions, says he's been in touch with Panthers officials throughout the process.

"They have interviewed three viable candidates. I know that they had one come back again for a second interview. So that's where they are," Wooten said Tuesday during a phone interview. "I think our position is we will let the process as it relates to the investigation run its course, and see what goes from there."

In addition to asking Hurney to meet with the search committee, the Panthers also brought in three minority candidates – Bills assistant scouting director Lake Dawson, Texans assistant GM Jimmy Raye III and 49ers personnel executive Martin Mayhew.

Dawson, the former Titans' personnel executive, returned to Charlotte for a second interview last week.

The Panthers placed Hurney on administrative leave on Feb. 5, three days after his ex-wife, Jeanne Hurney, requested a temporary restraining order while alleging that Marty Hurney had harassed her.

A district judge denied the request, saying he's seen no evidence of domestic violence, and Jeanne Hurney withdrew the complaint last week.

NFL investigator Lisa Friel was in Charlotte last week to interview Marty Hurney and others.

The Panthers moved quickly to hire Hurney on an interim basis last July after owner Jerry Richardson fired Dave Gettleman a week before training camp.

The NFL said at the time that teams only have to comply with the Rooney rule – which requires clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach and GM vacancies – when hiring for a full-time position.

But Wooten told the Observer last summer he believed the Rooney rule should apply to interim hires, as well.

And though Wooten hasn't spoken with Richardson, he said he's had conversations with several members of the search committee, including Panthers coach Ron Rivera and communications director Steven Drummond.

"They've done all the things that they need to do as it relates to satisfying the Rooney rule," Wooten said. "They've done a great job."

The National Urban League president Marc Morial last month wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, requesting the league consider an African-American ownership group for the Panthers.

Wooten echoed Morial's sentiments, saying he's hopeful a couple of minority-led ownership groups will emerge as serious bidders.

Hip-hop artist Sean "Diddy" Combs expressed early interest in buying the Panthers.

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Wooten had hoped Oprah Winfrey, the former talk show host who's worth an estimated $3 billion, would have an interest in owning the team. But Wooten says he's been told Winfrey does not want to be involved.

"We certainly are very much encouraged that there could be a possibility of a couple of groups that will be in position hopefully to make a serious bid toward the ownership of the Panthers. We think that's very possible," Wooten said. "And we agree with the Urban League that we just think that this is the time."