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So long, 2020.
Many people are ready to move on from the year that was unlike any other. For the Carolina Panthers, 2020 was a mixed bag. Some good memories and a few games that the team would like to forget.
But away from the field, it might have been the most important year for the franchise, yet.
Before we close the book on the year that was 2020, let’s take a look back at the five most important things that happened during the Panthers year, in chronological order.
1. Matt Rhule hired as the Panthers head coach
Rhule was a bit of an unexpected choice in Carolina. Just weeks prior, team owner David Tepper had discussed how hiring a coach with little NFL experience had its drawbacks. But after spending hours at his house in Waco, Texas, Tepper, former general manager Marty Hurney and vice president of communications and external affairs Steven Drummond felt he was the right man for the job. The next day, Rhule accepted the seven-year deal worth over $60 million.
With the move, the Panthers cemented the next phase of the franchise. Now, Rhule will have the chance to help select a general manager to work alongside him and continue to build the team in the way he has envisioned. How patient Tepper will actually be as the team develops is still to be seen.
2. Departures of franchise staples
Luke Kuechly’s retirement. Parting ways with Greg Olsen. Releasing Cam Newton after failing to find a team to trade with.
Mario Addison and Graham Gano are with other teams as well.
Saying goodbye to familiar faces was the theme of the first few months of 2020. Some came as more of a shock than others. If I told you a year ago Kuechly is in the Panthers scouting department, would you have believed me? Newton in a Patriots jersey? It’s all a bit of an adjustment.
Many are still connected to the Charlotte community and inductions to the team’s Hall of Honor seem inevitable for the likes of Olsen and Kuechly.
Moving on is never easy, but 2020 will certainly be remembered for the players who parted ways and the legacies they left behind.
3. Black Lives Matter, activism
Standing up against police brutality and fighting for equality took over the country in 2020. Athletes, including many Panthers players, got involved in the fight.
Shaq Thompson, Tre Boston and other players participated in a “justice walk” in Charlotte in June. Many others participated in protests in other cities. Meetings with local police were held. The Panthers did not hold a scheduled scrimmage just before the start of the season to allow the team to come together and speak on social justice issues,
Voting was also a priority. The team’s Player Impact Committee made informing voters a priority and getting North and South Carolina residents registered to vote. Bank of America Stadium was among several sites in Mecklenburg County used for early voting.
“I think it’s very important (to vote). I know for me growing up, I wasn’t taught to vote,” Thompson said. “Just hearing it, understanding like, oh, your vote does matter. It changes the difference. Makes me want to register. I just got done registering actually. And it makes me want to reach out to guys back in my community and tell them to vote and get a whole pamphlet out and try to teach them and understand like your vote does matter and stuff like that. It’s interesting just to hear that my vote does matter and it does count.”
4. The removal of the Jerry Richardson statue
The 13-foot statue of the team’s former owner outside of Bank of America Stadium was taken down at the Panthers’ order, with the team citing “public safety” concerns brought on by the nightly protests for social justice in Charlotte. Statues were being destroyed and taken down in many cities across the country.
The Richardson statue was never physically targeted, but safety measures allowed the team to take down a fixture that had been required to stay up as part of the agreement for Tepper to buy the team in 2018.
Richardson had announced his intention to put the team up for sale hours after Sports Illustrated published a story in December 2017 that alleged numerous instances of workplace misconduct, both of a sexual and racial nature.
The statue removal was a long time coming, and it marked an official end to the mark the previous ownership of the team left behind. The day it was removed Boston spoke on how the players were limited in how they could speak out while Richardson owned the team.
The statue has not yet been replaced.
5. Making it through a season of football
It happened. There was a full 16-game season of NFL football in 2020. Did it feature plenty of COVID-19 list updates and far fewer fans in the stands? Yes, but there was a time in 2020 when the season actually happening seemed unlikely. There were just too many hurdles.
But it was successful and as close to normal as one could hope. With everything going on in 2020, that fact seems to get lost. Being able to enjoy (or be frustrated by) an NFL game for a few hours is a good distraction. Hopefully, 2021 will feature more of a return to normalcy.