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The Carolina Panthers are facing scrutiny from the NFL after quickly clearing quarterback Cam Newton to play Sunday, less than two weeks after a league mandate requiring more extensive concussion testing for players demonstrating obvious symptoms.

NFL officials have already been in contact with the Panthers’ medical staff as to why Newton was not taken to the locker room when he was being evaluated for a concussion. They will not comment further until those conversations are completed.

Newton was slow to get up after New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata hit him with 8 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the Panthers’ 31-26 loss. He was replaced by backup Derek Anderson, and, as he moved toward the sideline, Newton went to the ground and appeared to be pointing toward his right eye.

Cam Newton is examined after being brought down by Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata.

Cam Newton is examined after being brought down by Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game that Newton had been poked in the eye. But in revisions to its concussion policy announced Dec. 29, the NFL said it would “require a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).”

Those symptoms appeared to match Newton’s actions. But the Panthers never took Newton to the locker room. Instead, they announced he was tested for a concussion on the blue sideline tent and cleared. He returned to the game for the Panthers’ next series and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to tailback Christian McCaffrey on his third play back.

Newton also said the injury was to his eye.

“I know it was precautionary things for a concussion,” Newton said, “but it wasn’t a hit to the head it was my eye. My helmet had came down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player’s stomach I believe. I thought somebody stuck their finger in my eye, but I’ve got my visor, so that couldn’t happen.”

Even if the Panthers were primarily concerned about Newton’s eye, their decision to eschew a locker room trip — at a time when they were trying to erase a deficit and advance in the postseason — will merit a closer look by league and union officials.

Since the start of the season, the NFL/NFLPA have conducted at least two investigations into potential violations of their concussion protocol. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for failing to test quarterback Russell Wilson after he was sent off the field in Week 10. More recently, the league found no violations but announced its Dec. 29 revisions in response to the Houston Texans’ decision to clear quarterback Tom Savage after he presented obvious concussion symptoms on the field, including the fencing posture.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, amid allegations of workplace misconduct, announced Sunday night in a letter on the team website that he plans to put the NFL team he founded up for sale after the 2017 season.

The letter came after Sports Illustrated published a story saying the Panthers settled with at least four former employees regarding inappropriate workplace behavior by Richardson.

“I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,” Richardson wrote. “Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played.”
The SI article detailed accusations made against Richardson that include sexual harassment of multiple women and the use of a racial slur toward a scout who has since left the team.

The NFL on Sunday announced that it was taking over the investigation into the allegations that the Panthers announced they were conducting on Friday.

Richardson, 81, allegedly made verbal comments about women’s appearances, inappropriately touched female employees and made advances to women that included asking whether he could shave their legs and for them to give him foot rubs.

Along with the allegation of using a racial slur that led to a settlement with the scout, SI notes comments made by Richardson about black players’ appearances and his threat to discipline players who addressed social issues. According to SI, Richardson and the Panthers reached confidential settlements with complainants that included nondisclosure and nondisparagement clauses. The SI report describes the settlements’ value as “significant.”

Sean “Diddy” Combs, who earlier this year was estimated by Forbes to be worth $820 million, quickly expressed interest in buying the Panthers. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, who went to high school in Charlotte and college in Davidson, North Carolina, also weighed in.
Bruton Smith, the owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and other tracks on the NASCAR circuit, said last year that he would be interested in purchasing the team. Forbes placed the value of the Panthers at $2.3 billion in September. Richardson and investors paid $206 million for the team in 1993.

Richardson was awarded the franchise in October 1993. The Panthers played their first season in 1995. Richardson previously had a plan in place that called for the team to be sold within two years of his death. Richardson reached a deal with Charlotte officials in 2013, when the city agreed to pay $87.5 million in upgrades to Bank of America Stadium that would keep the Panthers there through June 2019.

Charlotte-based sports marketing executive Max Muhleman, who helped Richardson bring the team to the Carolinas through the sale of personal seat licenses (PSLs) that financed the stadium, said he was sad to hear the news that the team was being sold.

“If that is his wish, he will leave one of sport’s most remarkable legacies for, hopefully, generations of Carolinians to come,” Muhleman told ESPN.com.

The Panthers are 10-4 after Sunday’s 31-24 win over Green Bay and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South. They are only two years removed from a 15-1 2015 regular season in which they lost Super Bowl 50 to Denver 24-10.

Carolina also reached the Super Bowl following the 2003 season, losing to New England.

Richardson promised when he purchased the team to bring the Carolinas a Super Bowl victory. He reiterated that in the letter.

“I hope everyone in this organization, both on and off the field, will be firmly focused on just one mission: to play and win the Super Bowl,” Richardson wrote. “While I will no longer be the team owner, I will always be the Panthers’ Number One fan.”