Tom Sorensen

David Tepper era gets off to a good start: What’s important to him matters.

First impressions of new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper: He’s relaxed. He wears no jacket to his introductory news conference, and he wears no tie. This frees him to leave the top buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, and he does. We have a new look in Charlotte: Owner Casual.

Tepper is 60, a year older than Jerry Richardson, who founded the franchise, was when his Panthers played their first game. Richardson turns 82 next week.

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Tepper made his billions though hedge funds. I don’t know how many Panther fans were familiar with hedge funds before Tepper bought the team, but they all are now.

Tepper is quick with his answers. He’s direct. He’s succinct. Early in the news conference it becomes evident that he owns the room in which he speaks, a suite. Of course, he owns the rest of Bank of America Stadium, too.

I can envision him at the neighborhood bar, at a table with the regulars, comfortable and confident and fitting in. I can’t see Richardson at a neighborhood bar, although he was, and still could be, a regular at a local barbecue restaurant.

Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, advanced beyond regular-guy status decades ago. No way do people leave him alone. There’s a neighborhood bar he favors. But he doesn’t enter through the front door.

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Tepper talks behind a lectern with the Panthers insignia on the front and the NFL’s on each side. He strikes me as likeable, although for many public figures new to a city that’s a pose. Nobody is mean at an introductory news conference. Yet, I don’t think it’s a pose.

When asked about the biggest problem facing the NFL, Tepper to his credit does not cite players taking a knee during the anthem. Instead of a contrived issue, he cites a real one: CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. That’s the brain disease triggered by repetitive brain trauma.

New Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper thinks about a question during a news conference at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Tepper finalized his purchase of the team on Monday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton AP

I’ve written for months that the Panthers will build a new practice facility, and phase out Wofford and hold training camp locally. Put the players up in a hotel rather than a Spartanburg dormitory and roll them out onto the field. Tepper talked about building that practice facility.

Free agents look at a variety of factors when they decide which team to join. Looking good, looking as if you care, doesn’t hurt. A new practice facility will look good. Nobody has said anything about leaving Wofford. But that’s Richardson’s alma mater, not Tepper’s. The camaraderie that living in a dorm generates for players – they all hate it together – can be replicated in or near Charlotte.

“At this point, given our practice field and what other people have in the league, we’re falling behind a little bit.”

He recited the Pledge of Allegiance, repeating the words that end it – “With liberty and justice for all.”

So, my first impression of Tepper is that he’s comfortable, he’s cool, and that I like him. If he is who he purports to be, you will, too.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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