NFL spokesman: League was unaware of Jerry Richardson settlements before report

Jerry Richardson (Getty Images)

An NFL executive said Thursday the league did not know Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had paid at least four former team employees to settle claims of workplace misconduct by Richardson until Sports Illustrated reported the payments this week.

The executive, Joe Lockhart, also said those settlements will be examined as part of a broader investigation of allegations against Richardson.

Lockhart, the league’s vice president of communications, told reporters outside counsel would handle the investigation.

“We just made the judgment that an outside firm is most appropriate,” Lockhart said, per The Charlotte Observer.

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The league previously announced it would take over the probe of Richardson’s alleged behavior from the Panthers.

SI reported Sunday that Richardson, 81, created a hostile work environment by regularly making inappropriate contact with and comments to female employees. He also uttered a racial slur toward an African-American scout who has since left the organization, according to the report.

The former employees who settled with Richardson signed non-disclosure agreements forbidding them to discuss the agreements publicly, SI reported. The Observer reported Thursday that the Panthers’ withholding the settlements from the league could represent a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

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Richardson announced Sunday he would put the team up for sale at the end of the NFL season. He did not refer to the allegations in his statement. On Monday the team announced Richardson would end his day-to-day activities with the Panthers to focus on the sale of the franchise. Longtime team executive Tina Becker was chosen to replace Richardson and was named chief operating officer.

Lockhart told reporters Thursday the league did not pressure Richardson into selling.

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