If we engraved our buildings with quotes of those they honor instead of their names, what would our campus look like? Popp-Martin Student Union might say, “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” The Cone Center might say “This too shall pass.”
Jerry Richardson Stadium might say, “Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up.”
Largely regarded as a hometown hero, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson faced public outcry in December 2017 after Sports Illustrated reported that he exhibited “inappropriate workplace comments and conduct.” Four former employees described a workplace culture rife with sexual harassment, where women were propositioned, groped and leered at by Richardson. On “Casual Fridays,” when Panthers employees typically wore jeans to work, Richardson made a habit of walking through the office and making female employees stand so he could “admire their backsides.” He would offer back rubs, foot massages and to personally shave female employees’ legs. Richardson’s conduct, which was described by a former employee as “wackadoo,” created a hostile environment for women. As one employee put it, “It was a power culture. You did what [Richardson] said, when he said it.”
In addition to these allegations, Richardson was also reported to display racist behavior. In 2016, Richardson “released”—fired—Toronto Argonauts safety Marcus Ball after Ball, a Black man, prayed and pointed a finger to the sky during the national anthem. Richardson is also said to have preferred Black football players not wear dreadlocks, and to have assumed Cam Newton went “crazy” and got tattooed after being drafted. And according to the NFL investigation, Richardson directed a racial slur at a Black scout for the Panthers. Richardson’s racism is especially unsettling in a city touted as a bastion of the New South; despite the Carolina Panthers’ statements on “diversity,” Richardson has evidently neglected these commitments.
This misconduct was enough for Richardson to be fined a record-breaking $2.75 million by the NFL. But apparently, it wasn’t enough for UNC Charlotte. Recently, the Board of Trustees announced their decision to keep Richardson’s name on our stadium. Richardson’s contract with the Athletics Department demands his name be used as an identifier for the stadium “in perpetuity;” supporters often note no morals clause preventing this. Plus, this contract, worth $10 million, helps sustain the University and its athletic program.
However, UNC Charlotte legal policy states that if an individual whose name is honored by UNC Charlotte is convicted of criminal behavior or “engages in conduct that, in the sole discretion of the University, is injurious to the reputation of the University,” the naming contract can be rescinded. Furthermore, any donations already made would be retained by UNC Charlotte. Richardson, whose donations come in annual $1 million increments, has already fulfilled $5 million of his contract with UNC Charlotte.
But the dilemma is not whether UNC Charlotte can change our stadium’s name. It’s whether they should. I want to point out that this kind of issue—the moral quandary of honoring misogynistic, racist or otherwise discriminatory and predatory individuals in our universities—is not at all unique to UNC Charlotte. In 2014, Duke University’s Board of Trustees chose to rechristen a dorm named for a white supremacist after students petitioned for its removal. In 2016, student activists at Harvard scored a decisive victory when Harvard announced that it would retire its usage of the Royall family crest, in part due to its deep ties with slavery. And last month, activists in Chapel Hill finally pulled down Silent Sam, UNC’s most visible monument to the Confederacy. Students everywhere no longer buy the flimsy excuse of “honoring our history,” so long as it means honoring the architects of oppression and violence.
The Board of Trustees watched these events unfold, some firsthand—yet it insisted upon keeping the name. Why would it cling to Richardson? He never went to school here. He was never employed here. And he clearly rejects UNC Charlotte’s values. You could argue that we need the contract’s funds, but what we lose in this transaction is incredibly disheartening. If we are willing to trade the comfort and sense of belonging of women, victims of sexual harassment and people of color for only $5 million, what does that say about our university? Why should marginalized people be burdened with his racist, misogynistic and sexually exploitative reputation?
We cannot claim to champion inclusion, diversity and accountability if we continue to honor Jerry Richardson. Until we remove his name from our stadium and properly address racism, misogyny and sexual harassment on campus, we are just paying lip service to the struggle of oppressed people. If we used quotes instead of names, Jerry Richardson Stadium wouldn’t need to display Richardson’s comments. It could just say “we don’t care about you.”