Charlotte's NFL bid scrutinized Investor's chain accused of racism

April 08, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

NFL officials are monitoring charges of racism lodged against the South Carolina-based Denny's restaurant chain, whose chairman is head of Charlotte, N.C.'s bid to join the league.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Commission for Fairness in Athletics says it may work against Charlotte's bid if the matter is not resolved to its satisfaction.

Denny's is owned by TW Holdings Inc., of Spartanburg, S.C., which is headed by Jerry Richardson, a former Colts player and the lead investor in Charlotte's prospective NFL ownership group. Charlotte is competing against Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., for one of the two teams the NFL says it wants to add.

During the past three weeks, Denny's has been the subject of a class-action lawsuit and a Justice Department suit alleging racism in its California restaurants.

Leaders of the NFL bid in Charlotte have answered questions from the league about the charges, said Mark Richardson, son of Jerry Richardson and a leader in the football effort there.

"We provided them with information as soon as [the] story broke," Richardson said.

Although both are headed by his father, the football bid is separate from TW Holdings, Richardson said.

NFL officials declined to comment publicly, but one, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: "We're watching it, obviously. We want to make sure we understand the facts."

A class-action lawsuit was filed March 23 in San Francisco accusing Denny's of discriminating against blacks.

The suit alleges that black customers throughout California were sometimes charged a special $2 cover charge after 10 p.m. and were sometimes required to pay for meals in advance.

Several days later, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit accusing the chain of a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against blacks, including denying black children free birthday meals.

Denny's signed a consent decree with the Justice Department, filed with the case, agreeing to conduct anti-discrimination training for employees and to include non-discriminatory statements in its restaurants and ads.

Denny's, in a statement, denied any pattern of discrimination. It said: "We find discriminatory behavior morally reprehensible and direct opposition to our company's long-standing values, policies and practices."

Frank Watkins, director of the Commission on Fairness in Athletics, said the group is monitoring the situation through a local coordinator, state Rep. Pete Cunningham, D- Charlotte. Cunningham was unavailable for comment yesterday.

"If African-Americans don't get their fair share, they won't back the Charlotte bid," Watkins said.

"We intend for our role to be one of activism and speaking out," he said. His group picketed Opening Day on Monday at Oriole Park, protesting the lack of minorities in baseball front offices.

He said the NFL should favor expansion candidates with blacks in their investment groups. Of the five cities competing for two NFL teams, Memphis and St. Louis have black investors, as do two of Baltimore's three prospective ownership groups -- those headed by entrepreneur Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and author Tom Clancy.

Charlotte and Jacksonville do not have black investors in their groups.

Race has been raised in the expansion process at least two other times. In late 1991, a circuit court judge in Florida made allegedly racist comments in a newspaper interview. This prompted a letter to the NFL from some black clergy suggesting the league consider the matter in its selection. The judge resigned.

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