By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Seemingly all aspects of American culture — whether it be in sports, entertainment, or the average workplace — have made tremendous strides in the past six months or so regarding the recognition and response to sexual harassment. The progress has been significant, but apparently that wave of change has not made it in to the owner’s suite in Houston.
That at least appears to be the case after Houston Texans owner Bob McNair downplayed the charges against soon-to-be-former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson when speaking on Sunday.
“I hope this thing turns out that he’s innocent,” McNair said of Richardson, per ESPN. “They alleged. I don’t know. Some of the comments he might have made could have been made jokingly and misunderstood. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anybody.”
As first reported by Sports Illustrated, the 81-year-old Richardson has been accused of speaking to women in the organization on “jeans Friday” with comments such as: “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 has reached confidential settlements in the past for charges of sexual harassment and uttering a racial slur at an African-American employee.
Richardson has been accused of having female employees brought to his suite, where he’s then requested a foot massage. He’s also been accused of giving back rubs to employees “that lingered too long or went too low down the spine.”
Richardson has also been accused of utilizing “the seatbelt maneuver.” That was described as such: “he would insist on fastening their seatbelt for them, reaching across their lap and brushing his hand across their breasts before putting the belt in the clasp.”
There was also this, from that SI report: “Multiple female employees recalled to SI that Richardson asked them if he could personally shave their legs.”
Rather than fight the charges, the billionaire announced two days after that report that he will be selling the team.
The 80-year-old McNair, though, says it’s very possible that all the accusations made against Richardson are false.
“We get confronted with it, too, where people will allege something, they get a lawyer, and what they do is come out and threaten you,” McNair said. “And your legal counsel and your insurance people say, ‘Well, it’s going to cost you X number millions of dollars to defend this. And if we can settle it for this …’ [Then he goes], ‘Well, wait a minute. We’re not guilty. Why would we do that?’ That’s the question. Sometimes just to get rid of it, if you can get rid of it, do it.”
McNair also said that Richardson explained himself to some fellow owners. Though McNair may doubt some of the accusers, he does believe Richardson.
“I know Jerry. He’s an outstanding person,” McNair said. “He was very candid in what he said and what he did, and sometimes things get misunderstood.”
There is, without question, some misunderstanding going on here. Though it’s not entirely surprising that there’s a lack of enlightenment for some old men who are incredibly wealthy and also own NFL teams.
It’s not the first time McNair has stepped into some trouble by opening his mouth. It does not appear as though it will be his last.