CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The 4,500-pound statue of Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson will never return to its perch at Bank of America Stadium, two sources told The Observer on Thursday.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation said the statue is not important to Richardson and that he has turned the page on that chapter of his life. The source also said that Richardson, who owned the team from 1993-2018, doesn’t plan to champion any lawsuits advocating the statue’s return to the stadium.
Another source, one with direct knowledge of the Panthers’ thinking, said the team wants the statue to be removed permanently. The 13-foot statue was taken down and hauled off Wednesday at the Panthers’ order, with the team citing “public safety” concerns brought on by the nightly protests for social justice in Charlotte. The statue’s temporary home is inside the security fence at Bank of America Stadium. Its permanent home, one source said, will likely be an undisclosed storage facility. It won’t be destroyed.
One unintended consequence of the statue’s removal: The entrance to the stadium’s north gate will be wider and easier to navigate for fans this fall during the “social distancing” era of COVID-19.
The statue, called “The Tribute,” was presented to Richardson by his minority ownership partners in 2016 as an 80th birthday present. At the time, Richardson still owned the team.
Current Panthers owner David Tepper bought the team from Richardson in 2018. Richardson had announced his intention to put the team up for sale hours after Sports Illustrated published a story in December 2017 that alleged numerous instances of workplace misconduct, both of a sexual and racial nature.
The NFL would later substantiate many of those workplace misconduct allegations in its own investigation and fine Richardson $2.75 million, nearly tripling the previous largest fine it had ever levied. The fine represented less than one percent of the $2.275 billion Tepper paid for the Panthers in 2018, however.
In his first press conference in Charlotte as the Panthers’ owner, in July 2018, Tepper said he was “contractually obligated” to keep the statue of Richardson exactly where it was. However, the contract also specified that the statue could be moved if it became a safety hazard, a source said.
The three-part sculpture — Richardson, dressed in a business suit, stands 12 feet, 10 inches (twice his actual height) and is flanked by two snarling Panthers — was disassembled Wednesday and placed on a flatbed truck.
Richardson’s statue floated 30 feet in the air while being hoisted by a crane onto the flatbed truck at about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday. The snarling Panthers proved harder to dislodge, particularly one of them that was more firmly attached to the statue’s base.
Finally, just after 10 p.m., all three pieces of the statue had been loaded onto the truck and were backed inside the stadium’s security gates for temporary storage.
The statue isn’t the only one in the Carolinas featuring Richardson in a business suit. There’s another at his alma mater, Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
Richardson and his wife, Rosalind, are benefactors of the school, and Wofford has never given any indication that it would remove that statue, which was erected in 2014.
A Wofford spokesman issued this statement about its own Richardson statue Thursday: “Mr. Richardson’s contributions to Wofford College are extraordinary, and for that we are grateful. It is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
The Charlotte 49ers’ football stadium is also named for Richardson, who pledged to give $10 million in 2013 in yearly increments of $1 million to help build the stadium, The Observer has previously reported.
Observer staff writer Alaina Getzenberg contributed to this story.