David Tepper has taken verbal shots at Donald Trump and fought back tears while delivering Carnegie-Mellon’s commencement address.
But in his first comments after being approved as the second owner in Carolina Panthers’ history, Tepper didn’t say a whole lot.
Tepper declined to address much about Jerry Richardson, joked with a couple of reporters about their hair (and his lack of it) and took only five questions during a short press conference after NFL owners voted 32-0 to approve his $2.275 billion bid.
But Tepper said the right things on a couple of important topics, including the Panthers’ future in the Carolinas, the importance of winning and his view on equality.
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Tepper, 60, talked for less than eight minutes. But in those brief remarks and his interactions with reporters at these spring meetings in Buckhead, he came across as the “billionaire next door,” as he’s been described.
Long before he became hedge fund manager worth more than $11 billion, Tepper was a Pittsburgh kid from middle-class background who stayed home for college and later bought a 5 percent stake in his hometown Steelers.
During his stops in Charlotte throughout the sale process, Tepper saw in Charlotteans people who reminded him of folks from the Steel City.
Clearly, his time in Charlotte did not coincide with the golf tournament at Quail Hollow.
“I’ve been around this league for a little bit of time. This opportunity came up, I think it’s a fantastic place with a great football tradition. I think it’s a great football area with good people,” Tepper said.
“Like I said before at some point, these people down here remind me of — people make fun of me for saying it — but Pittsburgh people.
“So I was very comfortable down there.”
Tepper wasn’t as comfortable Tuesday talking about Richardson, who tearfully embraced commissioner Roger Goodell after the vote but slipped in and out of the Whitley Hotel through a back entrance to avoid reporters.
The next time Richardson addresses the sexual and racial misconduct allegations that precipitated the sale will be the first time.
The protective net thrown around Richardson should not have been a surprise: The Sports Illustrated article that rocked the organization in December detailed “significant” financial settlements with at least four former employees that were made to cover Richardson’s misdeeds.
Tepper took care not to kick Richardson on his way out the door — or Richardson’s colleagues. He said he hasn’t been around the organization long enough to know how or if he’ll try to change the front office culture.
“I can’t change much before I actually buy the team and I don’t know exactly what’s there because I haven’t been there,” he said.
“But for me, just a couple of things, I’ve had a business for 25 years. I kind of believe, this is me now, it has nothing to do with the Panthers — I’m a person that believes in equality of everybody, including men and women.
“I think versus me talking about anything that happened in the past — the past is the past, the future will be that.”
Is change coming?
Tepper will have six weeks to dig in deep on the team he just bought. The sale is expected to officially close in July.
And while the football side of the building seems to be in good shape, Tepper needs to ensure the reverential aura that surrounded “Mr. Richardson” is taken down, same as the 13-foot statue of Richardson at Bank of America Stadium.
Tepper’s business associates call him “Dave.” Having Panthers’ employees refer to him likewise would be a small, but meaningful change from the “Mister” regime.
Though the SI scandal will leave a mark on Richardson’s legacy, his commitment to the Carolinas, plural, is to be commended.
Tepper has no plans to change that.
“What’s the name of the team? Carolina Panthers. It’s going to be the Carolina Panthers,” he said. “Listen, there is a logical place for this team, and it’s Charlotte, and it is the Carolina Panthers. And that means this team has to have some kind of presence in the Carolinas and last time I saw, how many are there? That’s right, there’s two of them.”
Tepper went on to call Charlotte “the logical place” for the stadium and made a vague reference to the possibility of bringing an MLS team to the city (like Atlanta).
Not the time or place ...
He’ll have time to address the other issues, and his appearances on CNBC suggest he will.
But he – or his handlers – decided Tuesday was not the time and place. So while Richardson was ducking out the back door, Tepper at least made his mission clear.
“If I’m moving someplace and we’re doing this at Carolina, the first thing I care about is winning,” he said. “The second thing I care about is winning. And the third thing I care about is?”
Here Tepper paused, allowing a couple people to provide the “winning” response he was looking for. Then the man who made billions by betting right on winning stocks closed his press conference on this note:
“That’s on and off the field,” he said. “That includes charity aspect, community aspect and how you make a community better.
"So you win a lot of ways, and I don’t like losing any way.”