Owner Jerry Richardson, critical of protests, meets with Panthers' captains

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson met with his six team captains Tuesday at his home to discuss his views on protests taking place in the NFL.

The Charlotte Observer, citing a source, said the meeting was called to address concern that Richardson's stance that the protests were "politicizing the game'' prevented players from joining the protests.

On Tuesday, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn told WFNZ radio that some players were "scared" to express themselves regarding protests around the league because of the way it might look to Richardson.

"People was kind of scared to express that because of how it made it look to [Richardson]. We didn't do much as a team. I think we wanted to do more, but we didn't know how it would come down, this being North Carolina. ... I think a lot of people were scared on our team."

Carolina's captains are outside linebacker Thomas Davis, quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, center Ryan Kalil, safety Kurt Coleman and tight end Greg Olsen.

"They discussed social issues affecting the league and solutions moving forward,'' spokesman Steven Drummond said. "As always, the conversations between Mr. Richardson and the players will remain private.''

Richardson, the only NFL owner who played in the league, released a statement Monday afternoon that said "politicizing the game is damaging.''

The Panthers were one of the last organizations to put out a statement in response to President Donald Trump's criticism of players who kneel during the national anthem.

"We are proud of the men we have on this football team,'' the 81-year-old Richardson wrote. "Our players have been active and impactful participants in making our community stronger. From the first time I stepped into an NFL locker room at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1959, I have lived and seen the sport's ability to bring people of all backgrounds together. Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who play it."

Said Munnerlyn: "That's my owner, that's my boss. But I definitely was waiting on him to release a statement. We know it's the state of North Carolina. It's a military state. You've got to be careful about what you say. You don't want to piss off the wrong people."

Coleman said Monday that players feel supported by management in terms of what they do in the community and for their charities.

"I think the one thing that we know most is this community, this organization, supports everybody in this locker room and the things that we do in the community,'' he said. "It's amazing how many lives we've been able to touch and change.

"We're trying to change lives over here. And I think this is another subject we want to continue to bring to light and help change for the better."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it's "very unfair to put so much on these young men'' in terms of NFL players feeling they have to respond to the comments of the president and other social issues.

Friday, while speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!"

It sparked a leaguewide reaction that ranged from the Pittsburgh Steelers staying in the locker room during the anthem to players locking arms on the sideline to players kneeling and locking arms.

Defensive end Julius Peppers was the only Carolina player to take part in the protest. He stayed in the locker room while his teammates stood on the sideline, most with a hand over their heart.

"It was about me making a decision as a man on my two feet, and I wasn't going to ask somebody else to do anything with me,'' Peppers said. "I just thought it was appropriate to stay in because we know what went on this week with the comments that were made by the president. I felt like he attacked our brothers, my brothers in the league, so I felt that it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room."

Rivera said he had a "tremendous amount of respect'' for how Peppers handled the situation. But he told his players Saturday night that, in his opinion, the best way to show unity was to stand at attention, left hand by their side and right hand over their heart and listen to the anthem.

Most did that. Davis stood with his head bowed and his hands together praying. Running back Jonathan Stewart stood with both hands to his side.

Newton stood holding the sides of a towel wrapped around his neck.

Rivera on Monday expressed concern over players being placed in the situation to make a statement.

"I'll ask the question: How come you don't see it in any other industry?'' Rivera said. "How come we don't see a newscaster just before he does 5 o'clock report say excuse me and step over and take a knee for a second? Or a bank teller say before I cash your check let me take my knee?"