Jerry Richardson is a tough man to figure out these days.
Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers owner created a controversy by requesting $87.5 million from the city of Charlotte to help fund upgrades to Bank of America Stadium. The Spring Hope, North Carolina, native originally asked for $125 million from the city and another $62 million from the state.
That's why it was somewhat surprising to learn that Richardson, who turns 77 in July, had contributed $10 million to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's startup football program. In exchange for the donation, the brand-new $40 million, 5,000-seat facility was inaugurated as Jerry Richardson Stadium.
UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois publicized Richardson's donation during a news conference on stadium grounds last Tuesday. According to the Charlotte Observer, the $10 million endowment is the largest naming rights agreement in school history.
“Nobody asked us to do this,” Richardson said at the news conference. “Charlotte is our home (and) I think that athletics plays a key role in any university or college experience and it was an easy decision for me.”
Then, he said this:
“In fact, I don’t do well when people ask me for money, ” he added. “I’d rather give it the way I want to give it.”
It's not hard to see why this statement might rub some Charlotteans the wrong way, especially those opposed to Richardson's use of public subsidies to fund renovations to the Panthers' 17-year-old facility. Richardson – the same man expressing his disdain of being asked for cash – certainly had no qualms with asking taxpayers for money to put escalators and a new video board in Bank of America Stadium.
In fairness to Richardson, he is entitled to seek public money to help foot the bill for stadium upgrades. This is simply the way stadiums are financed in today's NFL. He's not the first owner to shake down taxpayers, and he won't be the last. While his generous donation to UNC-Charlotte might be worthy of a scowl, his intentions cannot be deemed to be anything but pure and wholehearted.
It's unpleasant to see the man tenderly known as the "Big Cat" in the crosshairs of the same people who once worshipped him for bringing pro football to the Carolinas. Jerry Richardson is not a bad person; he's a good person with an image problem.
He's invested in the Panthers and the city of Charlotte, and now he needs to invest in himself. Hopefully, Jerry's next $10 million check is addressed to a public relations firm that can help him re-connect with the community and restore a positive public perception.