Texans owner Bob McNair: Panthers' Jerry Richardson has explained situation to owners

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Sunday, March 25, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. --Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has offered an explanation to at least some NFL owners about the allegations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct against him, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said on Sunday.

"I understand what he's saying,'' McNair said on the first day of the NFL owners meeting. "Sometimes people choose to try to make something go away rather than fighting it. I think his regret is he didn't fight some of these things.

"We get confronted with it, too, where people will allege something, they get a lawyer, and what they do is come out and threaten you. And your legal counsel and your insurance people say, 'Well, it's going to cost you X number millions of dollars to defend this. And if we can settle it for this ...' [Then he goes], 'Well, wait a minute. We're not guilty. Why would we do that?' That's the question. Sometimes just to get rid of it, if you can get rid of it, do it.''

The NFL in December began an investigation into the allegations after Sports Illustrated reported that Richardson reached a financial settlement with three former employees who alleged sexual harassment and a former scout who alleged that the team founder addressed him with a racial slur.

Richardson, 81, announced that same day that he planned to sell the team after the season instead of waiting until two years after his death, as he previously planned.

The next day, he stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the team and promoted Tina Becker to Chief Operating Officer.

Richardson hasn't spoken to reporters about the allegations, and he is not attending the league meetings. But according to McNair, Richardson has shared his side of the story with owners.

"I know Jerry. He's an outstanding person,'' McNair said. "He was very candid in what he said and what he did, and sometimes things get misunderstood.''

McNair this past season had to issue an apology for saying "we can't have the inmates running the prison'' in reference to ongoing player demonstrations during the national anthem.

At the time he said, "I never meant to offend anyone, and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally.''

McNair wasn't comparing Richardson's situation to his, but he used similar terminology when explaining what Richardson told owners about the alleged workplace misconduct.

"I hope this thing turns out that he's innocent,'' he said of the NFL investigation into Richardson. "They alleged. I don't know. Some of the comments he might have made could have been made jokingly and misunderstood. I'm sure he didn't mean to offend anybody.''

Regarding the sale of the Panthers, McNair squashed speculation that Richardson might pull the team off the market.

Sources told ESPN.com that the hope is that Richardson will select a winning bid sometime early next month and owners will vote on the winner at the May meetings in Atlanta.

"He's going to sell the team,'' McNair said. "He's had all kinds of health problems. ... He's going to sell it. I don't know all the details, but I know he has some good prospective buyers that appear to be qualified.''

Charleston, South Carolina, billionaire Ben Navarro and David Tepper, a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, are among the leading candidates to purchase the team.

That a portion of Navarro's company, Sherman Financial Group, has to do with debt collection has raised the question of whether that would hinder the 32 owners from giving the required three-fourths for approval if Navarro won the bid.

McNair said that would not be an issue with him.

"His business is a legitimate business,'' said McNair, who graduated from the University of South Carolina and owns a home in the Charleston area. "For me, that wouldn't be a problem. I appreciate that fact that he is interested.''