Niner Times Editorial Staff

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Editorial: The name change we should be worrying about

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.

Editorial: Free Writers, Free Press: on Creative Loafing and the future of journalism

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON BEHALF OF THE MAJORITY OF THE NINER TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD. IT IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF STUDENT NINER MEDIA.

Journalism in the era of fake news and clickbait often requires a choice between personal integrity and money. You want to make money doing something you love, but your publisher might require you to hit meaningless “click” quotas or espouse harmful, extremist, or just plain stupid ideas. So you become a shill: just another talking head whom the nation’s great-uncles quote at Christmas dinner. Or you want to write about the things you’re passionate about, but your publisher doesn’t like what you say or how “unpopular” your stories are online. So you become a freelancer, doomed to wander from alternative lifestyle blog to alternative lifestyle blog until you give up and start working in a cubicle like your dad.

Not every writer experiences this. Some of us are lucky enough to find a company that allows us both: to do our jobs ethically and to get paid well. But this tension is a constant source of fear for journalists everywhere, particularly with the harder-hit regions of the industry, like local and alternative media, which is part of the reason why the sudden demise of Creative Loafing, Charlotte’s only alternative weekly, was so profoundly painful for the Niner Times staff.

On October 31, the entire staff of Creative Loafing was fired by Charles Womack, the owner of Womack Newspapers, Inc. Womack, who also owns the Greensboro paper YES! Weekly, made an executive decision to sell CL to his 28-year-old son and terminate the print edition, stating: “The media industry is moving fast and furious into the digital age, and that is where Creative Loafing needs to be.” The former staff was not given any severance or even time to figure out their next line of work. Womack walked into the newsroom and gave them five minutes to pack up and leave.

Creative Loafing Kiosk by Nikolai Mather

Here at the Niner Times, we rest easy knowing that our publication isn’t just a paper: it’s a university institution. No matter what we may write or how many Retweets our pieces get, we retain fierce support from a network of full-time staff members, student organizations, academic departments and community groups. But we know that one day we will graduate, and if we choose to continue our careers as journalists, we may be subjected to the same treatment our friends at Creative Loafing received. After all, Ryan Pitkin, the former editor-in-chief of CL, was once our A&E editor. With local news and alternative weeklies being swallowed whole by press giants, we are faced with an increasingly urgent question: how do we survive in this new media landscape?

We don’t really have the answers, but we do have a story. In an interview, Pitkin talked about the immediate aftermath of his staff’s dismissal. They all trooped down to Solstice Tavern in NoDa, where they “drank and processed” the events of that afternoon. Within a few hours, their Tweets about the incident blew up, rapidly gaining hundreds of Likes and Retweets. Pitkin let his followers know where they were and linked his Venmo for folks to donate to their bartab. For the rest of the day, they received visitors from all over Charlotte to thank them for their work — artists, creatives, writers and diehard fans — and they were sent approximately $1,100 in donations from people all over the United States. Later that week, someone on Facebook suggested a benefit show for the writers; hundreds of people commented asking how they could participate. It eventually culminated in RIP Fest, a showcase of local bands, bars and restaurants that helped crowdsource the funds needed to launch the former staff’s newest project, Queen City Nerve, an independent paper led by journalists, not publishers.

Maybe local news is less entertaining than CNN or less fun than Buzzfeed, but Pitkin saw how the city of Charlotte felt about their work. “We realized even before RIP Fest just how much we had meant to the community and how much we needed to fill that void.” Though the former staff had toyed with the idea of creating a new publication, they didn’t seriously consider it until investors came to them asking to start anew. His answer? “Let’s do it. Like, this is an opportunity of a lifetime; to actually start an independently-owned newspaper, and do it the way we want to do it, and not worry about the publisher and whether he’s gonna invest in things that we need.”

The Niner Times staff believes that the key to creating a world with just ethical news is letting journalists lead the way. Only by giving them the respect and self-determination they deserve can we keep the press truly free. Yes, we should adapt to an Internet-based platform, but no, we should not sacrifice the livelihoods and legacies of talented reporters in pursuit. The independent press was born to inform the public, not entertain, prey upon or deceive it. We should all trust local journalists like Pitkin and his staff to adapt to this brave new world and provide that information. Not because we know them well or follow them on Twitter, but because that’s their job. And they’re really, really good at their job.

The Niner Times Editorial Board stands with Queen City Nerve in its mission to provide quality coverage of the Charlotte area and empower its staff to determine their needs and their careers.