In considering $5M donation from former Panthers owner, African-American Museum leaders weighed allegations of racism and sexual misconduct

Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson was fined $2.8M after NFL investigation

The International African-American Museum, a longtime effort headed by some of the Holy City’s most recognizable names, announced its biggest individual contributor to date: A football team owner accused of a years-long pattern of racial and sexual misconduct.

Rosalind and Jerry Richardson of Charlotte, N.C. donated $5 million to the organization.

$3 million will go toward an endowment to fund field trips for underprivileged students. $1 million will be set aside for construction, while the remaining million will support the museum’s curriculum and outreach programs.

The museum is set to break ground early next year at Gadsden’s Wharf, where it is estimated that 48.1 percent of enslaved Africans brought to the United States disembarked.

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who serves on IAAM’s board of directors, announced the donation from “generous and quiet benefactors” at a press conference at Gadsden’s Wharf on Thursday afternoon.

“Forever, children will come to this museum, who would not have the opportunity to otherwise, because of the generosity of Rosalind and Jerry Richardson,” Riley said in front of rows of students from elementary schools throughout Charleston County.

The gift comes on the heels of an NFL investigation into Jerry Richardson after allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct and made racist statements as the founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers.

In June, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a $2.75 million fine against Richardson following an investigation by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White. The league did not publicly announce details of their findings.

Richardson sold the team shortly after the NFL announced it would investigate the claims, according to The New York Times.

Some of the allegations, first reported in Sports Illustrated, mention details that echo allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Sources described an assistant escorting female employees to Richardson’s suite at the Bank of America Stadium in Uptown Charlotte, where he would ask for foot massages or give “back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine,” according to the magazine.

Perhaps most shockingly, considering Thursday’s announcement, Richardson is accused of once directing a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout, according to the magazine.

In an interview after Thursday’s press conference, Riley told CP that the allegations played no part in internal discussions over whether to accept the gift, and that he believes the Richardsons were sincere in their offer. He recalled a conversation he had with the couple in their Charlotte home, where Riley said their eyes “welled up” when discussing the museum’s value for school children.

During the announcement on Thursday, Riley revealed that the Richardsons cut an anonymous check totaling $100,000 for the families of victims of the Mother Emanuel shooting in 2015.

“We thought about a lot of different things, but at the end of the day, we sat down across the table from them, and looked them in the eye, and really heard from them, out of their mouths, about the motivations of their gift and what their expectations were, and the gift is really precisely in line with supporting our vision and our mission,” said IAAM President and CEO Michael B. Moore in an interview with CP. “It doesn’t veer us away from that at all.”

He said “everything was considered” before the gift was accepted, but that ultimately, he was convinced of the “sincerity of their motivations.”

“Over time, it’s going to touch hundreds of thousands of young people and that’s a wonderful thing,” Moore added.

Daniel Borochoff, the president of Charity Watch, says the source of a financial contribution should only be of concern if it appears to sway the mission of the organization it’s meant for.

His website issues letter grades to nonprofits based on analyses of their financial records. The website considers how much a given organization spends on overhead costs versus charitable programs, as well as how much it costs the organization to raise $100.

“Philanthropy has a long history of accepting gifts from people that aren’t model citizens,” he said in an interview with CP. “If there’s a concern that he might be a racist, then by putting his money to programs that discourage racism and show how wrong and horrible racism is, then that can very well be worth it.”

The Richardsons surpass Darla Moore and Anita Zucker as the largest individual contributors to the IAAM. Moore and Zucker gave $1 million each.

Richardson is from eastern N.C. and attended Wofford College in Spartanburg. The Richardson family was awarded the NFL franchise in 1993. Jerry’s son, Mark Richardson, is a trustee at Clemson University and runs a real estate company that does some business in Charleston.

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