-- 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 reporting 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 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 noted 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 non-disparagement clauses. The SI report describes the settlements' value as "significant."
Sean "Diddy" Combs, whom Forbes estimates 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.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tweeted a response to Diddy's interest in the Panthers on Monday morning:
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."
Richardson attended Sunday's game at Bank of America Stadium and was photographed sitting beside his wife, Rosalind, in his luxury box.
He did not speak to reporters.
The NFL had no comment on the upcoming sale of the Panthers when reached by The Associated Press.
Panthers interim general manager Marty Hurney said he has not seen any evidence of Richardson displaying any sexual or racial misconduct in the workplace.
"If this [sale] happens, I think it is a significant loss for the NFL," Hurney told The Associated Press. "I have the utmost respect for him as an owner. Our employees have the utmost respect for him. I came back because of the respect I have for him and for the organization he started and developed."
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said after Sunday's win that Richardson has served as a father figure to him since his arrival in Carolina seven years ago.
"For me I hope things don't alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson," Newton said. "But I do know that he has given me some things that I will forever be appreciative of."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game it is important to let the process play out.
"The only thing I can speak on is for what he has been to me as far as I'm concerned," Rivera said. "A lot of you know I had a house fire, and he was there for [my wife] Stephanie and I. He was tremendous in supporting us. My brother passed, and Mr. Richardson was there and helped me get to the funeral and back. I can't speak to anything other than that."
Richardson was hospitalized in 2008, one month after receiving a pacemaker. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2002 and was placed on a donor waiting list for a new heart. He received the new heart on Feb. 1, 2009, and has not had any known setbacks since.
It has been a wild year for the Panthers organization.
Team president Danny Morrison abruptly resigned in February. Richardson then fired general manager Dave Gettleman on the eve of training camp and replaced him with Hurney on an interim basis.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.