NFL Week 15 Wrap: Can a little color solve Carolina’s blues?

WASHINGTON — On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers treated their fans to an entertaining 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers to improve to 10-4 and keep pace with the rival New Orleans Saints for the NFC South title.

Yet few in Charlotte will remember that day for that reason.

As it turns out, that big victory on the field was only a halftime show for a day of massive change for the 22 year-old franchise.

Sunday morning it was announced the NFL would take over the investigation of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson stemming from allegations of sexual and racial misconduct toward his employees. By the time the game was over, Sports Illustrated had posted a story detailing large settlements paid to some of these employees and Richardson — the franchise’s only owner since its inception — announced he is putting the team up for sale.

This isn’t just news in Carolina, it’s a big deal across the NFL landscape.

Richardson is probably one of the most influential owners not named Jerry Jones or Robert Kraft. He was on the 1959 Baltimore Colts championship team, making him one of only two owners ever to actually play in the league.

The allegations against Richardson are strong and consistent with the type of claims we’ve seen take down entertainment moguls, media stars, and politicians alike in recent months. The fact that Richardson announced he’s stepping down mere hours after the NFL brushed aside the Panthers own internal investigation is a huge statement itself.

The SI article also brings up Richardson’s shady dealings with the black community, which sounds all too familiar for an 81-year-old man entrenched in the old ways of the South (which really aren’t as old as we’d like to think).

Upon reading about that, it hit me: Carolina — and the NFL — would do well to ensure the next Panthers owner is a minority.

No, I’m not saying sell the team to someone of color for pennies on the dollar.

As entertaining as it would be, I’m certainly not advocating for Diddy to win the bidding (although look at this: his inability to get the team’s name right, support from famed Panthers fan Steph Curry, and platform predicated on a great halftime show and starting a QB controversy between Colin Kaepernick and entrenched incumbent Cam Newton is exactly how we’d expect to end the zany year 2017).

But the league saw it had a diversity problem among its head coaches and created the Rooney Rule. Then it noticed front offices lacked diversity and expanded the rule to include them too.

So why not expand that to ownership?

There are no black majority owners in the NFL and there never have been. We’re only six years removed from Jacksonville’s Shad Khan becoming the first and only owner of color in the league, putting the NFL light years behind the NBA, where they’ve already had two black owners.

Ironically, both were in Charlotte.

Wednesday will mark the 15 year anniversary of Bob Johnson beating out Larry Bird for ownership of the then-expansion Bobcats. Eight years later, Michael Jordan bought controlling interest of the team (and eventually changed the name back to the Hornets) to become the first former player to become majority owner of an NBA team.

But Jordan still sits as the only black owner in any of the four major North American sports leagues. The situation in Carolina screams for him to get company — or at least do the damn thing himself.

Jordan has been mentioned among the top options since he’s already in Charlotte and worth nearly $1.4 billion. But according to Forbes, he’s got close to half of that tied into the Hornets and got involved with the Marlins ownership group, perhaps leaving Jordan — and it’s weird to say this about a man this wealthy — without enough space in his budget for this venture.

Of course, there’s one better option out there. Tell me you wouldn’t want to see this:

I mean, who wouldn’t travel to Carolina for that first Panthers game under her ownership just for the chance to hear Oprah Winfrey address the crowd, direct us to look under our seats, and say “YOU GET A CAR! AND YOU GET A CAR!”

Seriously though, Oprah is worth $2.8 billion, making her one of the few people on the planet — regardless of race or gender — capable of cutting a check for the Panthers cost of $1 billion without breaking a sweat (or at least having to get help from four or five of her richest friends). I don’t know what she’s got her money tied into but breaking off $600 million (the minimum cost to be the majority owner of an NFL franchise) to cement her legacy as the most transcendent person of our time is a worthwhile investment (that, and the optics of a strong black woman breaking up the “old boys network” of NFL owners that are presently and historically dominated by old white men).

Don’t be dissuaded by her lack of sports management experience or the fact that she’s already tied up with being the “Queen of All Media.” Every great leader delegates well; current Panthers COO Tina Becker is already running the organization while Richardson focuses on the sale of the team so maybe she stays in that role on a more permanent basis to serve as a bridge between regimes. If the preference is a clean break from the Richardson era, the suggestion of Amy Trask for a front office role is legit. Don’t know who she is? Read up.

Wanna make football in Carolina great again for everyone? Get Oprah on the phone with Roger Goodell.

And call up the updated NFL Week 15 Recap.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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