CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The Carolina Panthers took down the controversial statue of former team owner Jerry Richardson on Wednesday for “public safety” reasons.
“We were aware of the most recent conversation surrounding the Jerry Richardson statue and are concerned that there may be attempts to take it down,” a Panthers spokesman said, confirming an earlier report by the Observer. “We are moving the statue in the interest of public safety.”
The 4,500-pound statue will not be destroyed, the spokesman said. Whether the removal from Bank of America Stadium is temporary or permanent remains to be seen. The statue’s new location, for now, is undisclosed.
There had been speculation online that the statue of the Panthers’ founder would be an eventual target of the protests against systemic racism that have gripped America for close to two weeks since the death of George Floyd. The team was concerned that, if the statue was toppled, there could have been injuries to protesters or others nearby.
Two sources with direct knowledge told the Observer that Richardson wasn’t aware the statue was being taken down Wednesday before the work began early in the afternoon. Richardson declined to answer questions about the statue through his spokesman, Jim Gray.
Gray released the following statement on Richardson’s behalf: “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.”
The statue, featuring Richardson wearing a business suit, holding a football and flanked by two snarling panthers, was given to Richardson by the team’s minority partners on his 80th birthday in July 2016. Richardson pronounced himself “speechless” and “just overwhelmed” when he saw it for the first time, according to a 2016 story on the team’s website.
It was designed by California sculptor Todd Andrews, who also created the six enormous black Panthers that have encircled the stadium since 1996, as well as the sculpture of the late Carolina linebacker Sam Mills.
The sculptor made the Richardson statue 12 feet, 10 inches tall — purposely doubling Richardson’s 6-foot-5 height — Andrews said at the time of the unveiling of the piece, which was called “The Tribute.”
At about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, slightly less than four years after its installation, the Richardson statue was lifted off its pedestal by a crane and placed into a waiting flatbed truck. Workers then strapped the statue onto the truck and covered it with a tarp. The two panther statues that stood beside Richardson were removed after that.
Richardson, 83, was the team’s founder and owner from its inception in 1993 until 2018. He sold the club to David Tepper in 2018 following an NFL investigation that found Richardson guilty of multiple instances of workplace misconduct. Richardson was fined a record $2.75 million by the NFL in 2018 after the league’s investigation substantiated allegations of both sexual and racial misconduct. Many of those claims were originally published in a Sports Illustrated 2017 story.
Panthers safety Tre Boston offered some suggestions in a Zoom conference call later Wednesday as to who should be on a public statue at the north gate instead: Former players Luke Kuechly, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers were among Boston’s suggestions, as well as longtime team security employee John Coleman.
Boston said of the Richardson statue that it was “best for the community that we took it down.”
Tepper said in 2018 shortly after buying the team from Richardson that he was “contractually obligated” to leave the statue where it was, by Bank of America Stadium’s north gate. Thousands of fans pass by the statue on every game day and it has served as a frequent backdrop for photos.
A small crowd of reporters and spectators gathered to witness the statue be dismantled and hauled off.
“I thought it would be a cool, inspiring moment to see,” said Charlotte resident Randall Bissette, who rode his bike to the stadium to watch the statue come down. “I think it may be taken down for good.”
Bissette said he hoped the statue won’t return to the stadium: “It seems like the Black Lives Matter movement in Charlotte is actually having some effect, and organizations like the Panthers are stepping up and saying something about it.”
Thatcher Houser, a fan wearing a Panthers polo shirt, heard about the statue and also wanted to see its removal. “We assumed the statue was going to come down,” Houser said, adding he still supports the team.
Observer staff writer Laurel Deppen contributed to this story.