The Carolina Panthers found themselves in the middle of a sexual harassment storm when owner Jerry Richardson was accused by multiple women of harassment and fostering an unhealthy culture of mistreatment. Richardson has since announced he’s selling the NFL franchise, and while that might be a quick fix, it’s not the kind of thing that gets to the root of the problem.
Wednesday, Panthers defensive backs coach Curtis Fuller resigned, seemingly out of nowhere, without any specific reason given. Friday, the franchise let it be known that Fuller was fired because of complaints of workplace misconduct.
“After approaching Coach Fuller with the findings of an investigation into complaints of inappropriate conduct, we accepted his resignation,” team spokesperson Steven Drummond said in a statement. “The Panthers are deeply 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.”
The 39-year-old coach had been with the team since 2013 and had been promoted to DB coach last year.
Per the Charlotte Observer, an investigation into Fuller was launched after inappropriate electronic communications with multiple female staff members, though the specific number is not known. However, the Observer noted that the “volume” of communications was at the heart of the issue.
When asked about the resignation on Wednesday, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was “a complicated situation.”
Also a complicated situation, apparently, is the team’s internal investigation into owner Richardson, which is entering its fourth month without much information or details. One ex-Panthers employee told SI earlier this week that the investigation seemed to be a “farce” and implied it was unlikely to yield many results, if any.
Meanwhile, this news comes on the heels of another report by the Washington Post about the obscene conditions the Washington Redskins put upon their cheerleaders. According to that report, the cheerleaders had to ensure the leers of male team supporters and even escort some of them to nightclubs regardless of whether or not they wanted to.
The NFL usually likes to bury it’s head in the sand when it comes to social issues, only acting when it feels as though it’s in total control of the situation and can make it look like they’re the heroes. The impact of the #MeToo movement inherently makes it almost impossible for entities like this to do that, forcing them to confront the allegations head-on because there is nothing good to come from staying quiet. There are almost certainly more stories like this one lurking in NFL locker rooms, coaching rooms, and front offices. We can’t count on head coaches, GMs, or even team owners to do the work that needs to be done. The NFL needs to step in and step up before this gets worse.