This article was written on behalf of the majority of the Niner Times Editorial Board. It is not representative of Student Niner Media.
In Sports Illustrated’s groundbreaking report on Jerry Richardson’s misogynistic and racist behavior, a survivor mentioned a note that Jerry Richardson sent to every Panthers employee. The note featured a list of his five core values: hard work, harmony, teamwork, listening, and finally, respect.
The anonymous former employee recounted a horrifying history of Richardson’s abuse, manipulation and misconduct: suggestive comments about tight jeans, requests to personally shave employees’ legs and straight-up fondling. Other employees reported similar incidents of sexual harassment as well as Richardson’s profound racial bias. Richardson is alleged to have used a racial slur in reference to a black talent scout and reportedly cracked down on players planning to protest social issues like police brutality. Though all of these cases were settled out of court, the NFL investigated and eventually fined Richardson $2.75 million — one of the highest fines in NFL history.
It’s clear to the Editorial Board that Jerry Richardson has not upheld his list of values. We understand that unless these morals are actively demonstrated, they are meaningless, which is why we are greatly dismayed by UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees’ complete failure to abide by our University’s values.
In August 2018, the Board of Trustees determined unanimously that UNC Charlotte would honor the naming rights agreement for the Jerry Richardson Stadium. With some back and forth between the Student Government Association Senate and this decision, the Student Senate passed a resolution on Feb. 7 that encouraged the Board of Trustees to revisit their decision. When asked about this resolution at the Chancellor’s Forum on Feb. 22, Chancellor Dubois stated that the Board of Trustees would not reconsider their stance because there was “no new information made in the investigation.”
There aren’t many great excuses for continuing to honor racist sexual abusers, but the stance the Board of Trustees takes is one of the most flimsy.
For one, we don’t need any “new information” to understand what kind of a person Jerry Richardson is. These accounts of alleged harassment are more than enough to indicate that he doesn’t follow his own personal moral code, much less UNC Charlotte’s standards.
As for the truthfulness of those allegations, according to the NFL, no information was found to “discredit the claims made or that would undermine the veracity of the employees who made those claims.” It’s not that there was “no new information made,” it’s that there was no information found to dispute the four victims’ allegations. Jerry Richardson has not apologized or acknowledged culpability. However, he has not disputed these allegations. After they were made, he quickly sold the Carolina Panthers to David Tepper and retreated from the public eye. When you are being charged a $2.75 million fine for sexual misconduct and racial discrimination and do not directly address it in any way, it definitely appears to the public that you may be guilty of something. It’s not a good look for UNC Charlotte.
Conveniently, the naming contract he made with UNC Charlotte has no morality clause, meaning no provisions for revoking the contract were made in case one party violated a certain moral code. Richardson himself never attended or worked at UNC Charlotte, so applying the Noble Niner Code to his actions is a bit of a stretch. But clearly, there is a demand from the student body to hold him to the same standards of morals we champion at UNC Charlotte. The Board of Trustees is ignoring that demand, and in their complacency, they just appear to condone this behavior.
The Editorial Board is aware that the primary factor for the Board of Trustees’ decision is, of course, money. According to the Charlotte Observer, the naming rights contract outlined that Richardson would make a $10 million donation in the form of annual increments of $1 million. This contract started in May 2013 and will proceed until 2022.
Obviously we need money for our stadium to run. Is it worth getting donations elsewhere in order to change the name of the stadium? Yes. To have a building, institution or facility named after you on a college campus is an honor; one that someone who has engaged in misogynistic and racist misconduct does not deserve. In order to change the stadium name, we would have to find a new donor, but we fully believe that is worth pursuing. UNC Charlotte may not be as famous as other colleges, but there are bound to be more reputable donors willing to contribute to our growing campus.
At the end of the day, this isn’t just a conversation about morality: this is about our reputation as a university. We are still making a name for our campus in our state and our nation. We should be allying ourselves with people who actually care about our moral standard — not with the biggest (and most unscrupulous) donors. Our Board of Trustees are clearly worried about money, which is valid. Our football team isn’t going to fund itself. But is money really worth Richardson’s damage to our reputation?
Again, absolutely not. Just as the student body owes it to the University to represent it well, the University owes it to us to represent us well. We are a new university with so much room to thrive. We are still earning a reputation in the UNC system, and we are still growing in much of our athletics. With that growth comes responsibility. It comes with the responsibility to not let our reputation be tainted by poor behavior and people with little to no integrity. It comes with the responsibility to our University to decide if we want to hold on tight to UNC Charlotte’s dignity or to let words go with no actions to back them up. The Board of Trustees has decided that we will let Richardson’s reputation taint our institutions, and by doing that, it has decided that this is the kind of university we want to be. Well, we disagree.
The Editorial Board wants a university that sticks to values like integrity, respect, honor and compassion and displays them with actions, not just with words. And based on the response from the Senate and others, we believe that our fellow students want that, too.
So, to the Board of Trustees: we ask that you reevaluate your decision on Jerry Richardson Stadium. We ask that you choose integrity over money; we ask that you choose the student body over donors.