Panthers owner to sell team amid misconduct allegations

(Reuters) - Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced on Sunday he will sell the team, hours after the National Football League said it had taken over an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct by the owner.

“I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,” Richardson said in a statement on the team’s website.

“Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the end of this NFL season.”

Richardson’s announcement comes just two days after the Panthers said an internal investigation was being conducted by the team into the allegations. It would not comment on the nature of the accusations.

On Sunday, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to Reuters that the league would conduct the investigation.

While declining to comment on the nature of the allegations, the team said on Friday it was “committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally.”

Within hours of Richardson’s announcement, rap star Sean “Diddy” Combs and Golden State Warriors basketball guard Stephen Curry expressed interest in buying the Panthers.

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“I will be the best NFL owner that you can imagine,” Combs said in a video posted on Instagram. His net worth is estimated by Forbes at around $820 million.

“There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history,” Combs added on Twitter, to which Charlotte-raised Curry replied: “I want in.”

Curry, 29, is a two-times NBA most valuable player and has been a member of two championship-winning Golden State teams.

Sports Illustrated magazine reported on Sunday that at least four former employees have received monetary settlements due to inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by Richardson, including sexually suggestive language and behavior and use of a racial slur.

The magazine did not name the sources cited in the story but the settlements involved nondisclosure clauses.

Reuters could not independently verify the information.

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Richardson, 81 and a former NFL player, has been a majority owner of the Charlotte-based team since it began playing in the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1995.

The Panthers said on Friday that law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan would lead the internal investigation, and that former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a minority team owner, would oversee it.

The Panthers had urged the league on Sunday to take over the probe, and the NFL agreed to it, reported.

Carolina beat the Green Bay Packers 31-24 at home on Sunday to improve to 10-4 with two games left in the regular season.

“There has been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to bring an NFL franchise to Charlotte,” Richardson said in his statement.

He added that the sale of the Panthers, who joined the NFL in 1995, would not begin until the last game of the season had been played.

Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina and Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe/Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty