Richardson’s decision represented a swift fall for a man who at times has been among the N.F.L.’s most powerful owners. At 81, he has controlled the team for nearly a quarter-century, having bought the franchise when it was created in 1993.
For years, Richardson held sway over many important committees, and was an influential player in the league’s latest labor deal, which came after the owners locked out the players for several months in 2011. He was also the co-chair of the search committee for a new commissioner, which wound up being Roger Goodell.
Richardson continues to have many allies among his fellow owners, and he is the only current owner who also played in the N.F.L. He spent the 1959 and 1960 seasons with the Baltimore Colts.
. In the 1950s, Richardson walked onto the football team at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. He played wide receiver, occasionally kicked field goals and was good enough to get drafted in the 13th round by the Baltimore Colts in 1958. He not only made the team but caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.
Before his third pro season, Richardson demanded a five-figure contract—that is, a $10,000 salary. The counteroffer was $9,750, and Richardson left camp over a $250 disagreement. Out of football, he returned to South Carolina and used his bonus check from the championship game to open a Hardee’s restaurant.
Richardson was the South’s answer to Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s founder. Richardson parlayed his one restaurant into many and, along with a former college teammate, formed Spartan Food Systems, a collection of fast food franchises. By the early 1990s, Richardson, nothing if not a survivor, had become CEO of Flagstar Inc., based in Spartanburg.
In 1991, Richardson Sports submitted a formal application to the NFL for an expansion club. He decided it would not just represent a city or a state; the Carolina Panthers, he’d call it, would celebrate an entire region. Two years later, the owners unanimously voted to select Carolina over four other finalists to become the 29th NFL franchise. Jerry Richardson would join George Halas as the only NFL owner to have played in the league.
Flagstar was the subject of multiple racial bias lawsuits brought by the Justice Department. On the same day in April of 1993 that the Denny’s chain, owned by Flagstar, settled one suit for discriminating against African-Americans—segregating black patrons and requiring them to pre-pay for meals and make various other payments not required of white patrons. In 1994 Flagstar agreed to pay more than $54 million to settle lawsuits filed by thousands of black customers.