However, Mr. Richardson would leave the league in shame.
In 2017, he announced he was selling the Panthers soon after Sports Illustrated reported on accusations that he had sexually harassed women working for the team and that he had used a racial slur in the presence of a Black scout. The league investigation into Mr. Richardson’s workplace behavior led to a $2.75 million fine. But by then, he had already reached an agreement to sell the team for a then-record $2.3 billion. He never publicly addressed the allegations.
Jerome Johnson Richardson was born on July 18, 1936, in Spring Hope, N.C., a small town near Rocky Mount. Times were tough — his family’s home did not have running water or electricity.
An only child, he moved with his parents about 90 minutes south to Fayetteville, N.C. His father, George Bertram Richardson, was a barber, and his mother, Mary Williams Richardson, worked in a women’s clothing store. Jerry is said to have worked in the tobacco fields. The Richardsons did not have a car until Jerry was 16.
Tall and lanky, Jerry was also known as Stick. A standout football player, he won a partial scholarship to Wofford College in Spartanburg, where he starred as a player. He was drafted in the 13th round by the Colts in his junior year, but he returned for his senior year and graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
In Baltimore, he was voted the team’s rookie of the year and befriended Unitas, the greatest quarterback of his generation. Richardson caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Unitas to help the Colts capture the N.F.L. crown. In two seasons with the Colts, Richardson played in 22 games, and caught 15 passes for 171 yards and four touchdowns.
After his second season, he asked for a raise to $10,000. After the team offered $9,750, he returned to Spartanburg and, with his former college teammate Charles Bradshaw, bought the first Hardee’s hamburger restaurant there. Mr. Richardson was hands-on, cleaning parking lots, mopping floors and flipping burgers.