Jerry Richardson, the founder and original owner of the Carolina Panthers, died Wednesday night at age 86.
The team announced Richardson's death Thursday.
"Jerry Richardson's contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic," Panthers owners David and Nicole Tepper said in a statement. "With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own."
Richardson sold the Panthers to the Teppers for a then-record $2.275 billion in 2018.
The ownership change came in the aftermath of an NFL investigation that found multiple instances of sexual harassment and racial misconduct by Richardson, who was fined $2.75 million by the league. Tepper subsequently had the statue of Richardson removed from outside of the Panthers' stadium in June 2020.
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Richardson, who began the Hardee's fast-food hamburger chain in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1961, was awarded the NFL's then-29th franchise on Oct. 26, 1993.
The Panthers played their first NFL game on July 29, 1995, against fellow expansion team Jacksonville, in a preseason game.
Frank Reich, the newly named head coach of the Panthers, threw the franchise's first touchdown pass in a regular-season game under head coach Dom Capers, now an assistant coach under Reich.
"The NFL community is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry Richardson," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday. "The Carolina Panthers are a testament to his extraordinary and tireless dedication to the community. But his league-first attitude as seen through his leadership of numerous NFL committees, including the Stadium Committee and Management Council Executive Committee, helped pave the way for a series of public-private stadium partnerships throughout the country, and collective bargaining agreements that continue to support the growth of the game.
"As a former player himself, Jerry cared deeply about the welfare of players and the labor agreements he helped negotiate have led to improved pay and benefits for generations of players.
"From a personal perspective, he was a wise and caring advisor to me, his fellow owners, and many Panthers players and coaches over the years.
"On the NFL's behalf, I extend our sincere condolences to Jerry's wife, Rosalind, and their family."
Richardson played in 22 NFL games for the Baltimore Colts in 1959-60. He was part of the Johnny Unitas-led team that won the 1959 NFL championship.
Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera, who led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, offered his condolences on Twitter.
"I will always be grateful to him for the opportunity to coach the Carolina Panthers & for his patient, steadfast leadership during 7 seasons," Rivera wrote. "Condolences to Rosalind, (daughter) Ashley, & (son) Mark and the Richardson family."
--Field Level Media