By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in South Carolina
I was at the Carolina Panthers’ home football game Sunday, just a few days after the news broke about the owner Jerry Richardson and allegations of “workplace misconduct,” as the team statement read.
Those of us sitting near each other speculated about what that specifically could mean while simultaneously turning to see if Richardson was in his usual box seat for the game. He was. Someone said, “Good god, he’s 81 years old.” I’m not sure whether that comment meant that he should be let off the hook or if it was hard to fathom that he, too, could present himself as such a dignified human being while being accused of such egregious acts.
According to ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the Panthers settled with at least four former employees regarding inappropriate workplace behavior by Richardson. Sports Illustrated reported that Richardson had been accused of sexual harassment of multiple women and of using a racial slur toward a scout.
The buzz at the game was mostly about the team’s winning streak and performance over the Green Bay Packers, but leaving the game, several men were overheard saying, “this is bad for Richardson, really bad.”
Did Richardson do what’s being alleged? Who knows? But the allegations certainly put the NFL back in the violence against women spotlight.
A young man in the stands said: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. What can I say? How do I know if I’m out of bounds? Can I look at the cheerleaders? There have to be some rules.”
There actually are rules — rules of decency and humanity, at the very least. In fact, most companies have codes of conduct and behavior that are clearly spelled out.
People who choose to break the rules just decide the rules aren’t meant for them. There was former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth who, in 1999, murdered his pregnant girlfriend and tried to kill their unborn son because, allegedly, he didn’t want to pay child support. There’s Ray Rice, who beat his girlfriend unconscious in a hotel elevator, and then made a desperate plea for an NFL team to give him another chance. There are so many NFL players who have been accused of domestic violence, the website Ranker.com created a list.
There are rules. But every day in headlines across this country, we all read about another victim. Another individual who has been touched, beaten, raped, assaulted, abused in some way. Another individual who tried to fight back or say no. Another headline that reminds us that a woman is still missing from her hometown after 25 years. Another little girl is still missing from her rural South Carolina home after 30 years. A coach who has violated the trust of his or her young team.
When my various groups of women friends gather, the topic is the same. There is no shock or surprise by recent news of men harassing women. More often than not, every woman present has been a victim of unwanted attention or far worse during her lifetime. And these are a handful of women who have never told a soul before, much less registered under the hashtag #MeToo.
God knows I love sports and the spirit of healthy, fair competition. But I have to wonder about major sporting events vis-a-vis violence against women statistics. To be fair, this is not just a sports problem. This is a disease that has infected every segment of our population. Every walk of life. Men, women and children. It’s become an epidemic. And it’s time to find a way to stop it.
The EndIt Movement out of Atlanta, Ga., shines a light on violence and human trafficking. Its powerful video, shown at the time of a Final Four event, is worth a watch and share. The group’s message is clear — if we see it, would we end it? (You can find the links at the end of this piece.)
Power and control are the only rules that govern abusers. All of them. Whatever the abusers’ choice of weapon — power and control are their only rules.
This isn’t a commentary on Richardson, nor is it a piece to declare he’s guilty before he has a chance to defend himself. He is merely a microcosm of the larger issue. And, besides, he’s decided to sell the team. So there will likely be no resolution there. He gets to sell the team and ride off into the retirement sunset. The potential for his Carolina Panthers to do some good, offer some awareness – whatever – gets sold with the team.
The Panthers’ Tina Becker was named Chief Operating Officer of the Panthers earlier this week. According to Newsweek.com, Becker has been with the organization nearly 20 years and started as a TopCat, a Panthers’ cheerleader. The move places her in rare NFL executive air for a female. I hope she’s up to the challenge.
A Richardson quote in Newsweek.com read: “I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership. Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played.”
So was the Becker hiring strictly a public relations move or can we hope for both strong leadership and an inclusive and harassment-free workplace on her watch?
Newseek.com continued with Richardson’s quote as he summed up the objectives for his current Carolina Panthers: “I hope everyone in this organization, both on and off the field, will be firmly focused on just one mission: to play and win the Super Bowl.”
Just one mission. Wow. That’s too bad.
Copyright 2017 Sheryl McAlister.