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Strickly Panthers: Richardson reaches out to fans

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CHARLOTTE – When Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson spoke at a press conference Tuesday, it wasn't the first time some folks in the general public had heard Richardson's voice over the last few months.

"When I call, the first thing almost always is, 'No it's not,'" Richardson said, referring to the response he's gotten upon introducing himself during recent phone calls he's made to fans.

Richardson received an enormous amount of emails during the Panthers' recently concluded 2-14 season, and whenever possible he made an effort to respond through a more personal form of communication – a phone call.

Richardson, who said he's not a "high-tech person," got first real education about email as a form of communication when his health problems resulted in a heart transplant nearly two years ago.

"When I was sick, I got literally thousands of emails. So in my mind, I associated emails with good things," Richardson said. "Well, this past season, I have discovered that emails are not necessarily good things."

Some Panthers fans frustrated with the direction of the team this past season lashed out at Richardson via email. Even though emails can leave a permanent mark of sorts in that they can sit in an inbox forever, their relatively anonymous, impersonal nature liberates some people to say things they'd never dare say to someone's face or even during a phone conversation.

Richardson's phone calls served to make it more personal - once those he called realized it actually was Richardson on the phone.

"I will mark the email and what I would classify as the part of the email I'm likely not to like, and I will say, 'Well, let me read this to you and see if it refreshes your memory,'" Richardson said. "And when I read it, it must sound as awful to them as it sounded to me when I got it.

"Their normal response is, 'Oh yes, it is you.'"

Richardson said he's taken time out of his busy day at various points - morning, afternoon and night - to respond to emails. Tuesday, he used a less personal but more wide-reaching forum to address fans, sharing with Panthers supporters via a rare press conference that better times are around the corner for their favorite team.

"I have the highest level of confidence that a person can have that this pain we've been through is eventually going to pay very good results for us," Richardson said. "I'm as enthusiastic as I've ever been almost since the first time we got the team."

Richardson said not all the emails he's received have been negative in nature, and he's made an effort to respond to those as well.

Next season, he wouldn't mind if his team does the talking for him on the field.

"We're going forward. We're moving forward," Richardson said. "It's a new year."

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