The NFL is taking over the investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson amid a report on Sunday that the team settled with at least four former employees.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy confirmed the league will retain an outside counsel to conduct the investigation.
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated reported Sunday that it learned at least four former Panthers employees have received "significant" monetary settlements due to inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by Richardson, including sexually suggestive language and behavior. On at least one occasion, he directed a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout, according to the magazine.
The settlements came with non-disclosure requirements forbidding the parties from discussing the details, according to the SI article written by Jon Wertheim and Viv Bernstein.
The Panthers declined to comment to Sports Illustrated beyond reiterating their statement issued on Friday.
Sports Illustrated detailed accusations made against Richardson, including describing what happened on Friday's "Jeans Day" when most staffers at the team offices would wear denim to work.
"The female employees knew what that meant," the article read. "As the team's owner, Jerry Richardson, made his rounds on the way to his spacious office, he would ask women to turn around so he could admire their backsides. Then, in his rolling Southern drawl, he'd offer comment, drawing from a store of one-liners he'd recycle each week. Among those in heaviest rotation: Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up. I bet you had to lay down on your bed to fit into those jeans. Did you step into those jeans or did you have to jump into them?"
Richardson's conduct was treated as something of a running office joke, according to multiple former Panthers team employees who spoke to Sports Illustrated on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The Panthers originally announced Friday that the team opened an investigation into the allegations, which have not been revealed because of the nature of the issue.
"The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct," team spokesman Steven Drummond said Friday in a statement. "The entire organization is fully 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. We have work to do to achieve this goal, but we are going to meet it."
The team initially said the investigation of the allegations facing the 81-year-old Richardson was being led by law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP. Overseeing the probe originally was minority owner and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, but the investigation now will be handled solely by the NFL.
The Panthers shut off access to cameras and reporters for player arrivals for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers at Bank of America Stadium, according to ESPN. No reason was given.
Richardson was at the stadium for the game, but the windows to his end zone suite were not open as they typically would be by game time, ESPN reported.
Richardson, who played for the Baltimore Colts in 1959-60, became the first former NFL player since George Halas to own an NFL team when he was awarded an expansion franchise on Oct. 26, 1993.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera issued a statement Friday regarding the allegations: "I have had a strong relationship with Mr. Richardson during my time with the Panthers. I have enormous respect for the man, but will wait for the results of the investigation before making any judgment."
Richardson, who primarily works behind the scenes and rarely does interviews, is one of only two owners to have owned a franchise since its inception. The other owner is Bob McNair of the Houston Texans.