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  • The newest NFL owner has been outspoken about his disdain for the 45th president of the United States. How will this impact issues down the road?
By Jonathan Jones
May 15, 2018

Donald Trump has been fighting against—and losing to—the National Football League for more than three decades. Now, one of his richest rivals is about join the fray.

At the NFL owners meetings next week, hedge fund manager David Tepper will become the new owner of the Carolina Panthers after paying a record-breaking price—$2.2 billion—for the franchise. In the past 18 months, Tepper hasn’t been shy sharing his feelings about the 45th president, including comments as recent as last month at his alma mater.

“The economy’s really good right now, despite different things,” Tepper told a first-year business school student at Carnegie Mellon University (the business school is named after Tepper following his $55 million donation in 2004). “…Whether I like the person or not I’m not going to get into that—although I did call him a demented, narcissistic scumbag. And if you look up demented, narcissistic scumbag, you’ll see my name calling Trump that. Just Google those three words.”

Tepper will soon join a small group of NFL owners who have spoken out against Trump. The president has battled against North America’s most popular professional sports league dating back to 1984 when he owned the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. Here is a brief history of Trump’s dealings with the NFL since then:

• Trump was part of the USFL’s anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in 1986 that the upstart league won in name only, getting a judgment of $1 and ultimately folding the USFL;

• He attempted to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014 (he was ultimately outbid by the Pegulas), and reportedly started a seemingly grassroots campaign to foil Jon Bon Jovi’s plans to purchase the team;

• And last fall, he inserted himself into the ongoing discussions surrounding player protests during the national anthem when he referred to players who knelt (while protesting police brutality against people of color and inequality in the criminal justice system) as “sons of bitches” and dared NFL owners to cut kneelers from their team rosters.

Though Trump has seemingly shifted his focus away from the NFL for now, he remains an important outside figure as Colin Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the league continues. And Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called Trump’s presidency “disastrous” in a meeting with owners and players last year that was secretly recorded and leaked to The New York Times last month.

By no means should Tepper be considered a bleeding-heart liberal for his anti-Trump stance. He called himself “an independent of sorts, I guess” the day before the election and revealed that he supported Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney in ’12 and Jeb Bush in ’16 before voting for Clinton, who he said had questionable judgment, later that year.

But Tepper hit a tipping point the weekend before the November 2016 election when he says he heard future first lady Melania Trump introduce her husband as a “giving, generous and charitable person.” He called into CNBC’s Squawk Box show the day before the election to rip Trump and explain what the election of either candidate would mean to the economy.

“One thing I do with my wife, this is a thing called the Golden Rule. It has nothing to do with investments—nothing to do with investments,” Tepper emphasized. “It says do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And that’s not being done with Trump—not at least on the good side. It just was a turning point. That’s my upbringing. I can’t help it. I can’t take it anymore. And when you lie about that stuff and you lie about fundamental beliefs.

“Listen, Trump masquerades as an angel of light, but he is the father of lies, especially concerned with charity or good deeds.”

According to reports, Tepper hails from a middle-class Pittsburgh family. His father, Harry, was an accountant and his mother, Roberta, was a public school teacher. After earning his master’s at Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper ascended the ladder quickly at Goldman Sachs. He left the company after being passed over for a partnership and started Appaloosa Management, a name chosen out of horse book when he learned Pegasus Funds had already been taken.

He’s heavily involved in charities and food banks in the New York/New Jersey area. After Hurricane Sandy, Tepper donated $200,000 in gift cards to families affected by the storm. He’s on the board of Robin Hood, New York City’s largest poverty-fighting organization, and Tepper donated $3 million in hurricane relief to people in Houston and Puerto Rico last year.

In comparison, Trump received what he has referred to as “a small loan of $1 million” from his father so he could begin his career. Since becoming a billionaire, Trump has dubiously asserted several charitable donations that have been doggedly pursued by a reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work. And when visiting the hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico last year, Trump told officials during a briefing that aid to the American territory had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”

“During the financial crisis, during Sandy, [Trump did] not [give] one dime, and I know this for fact—not conjecture—not one dime to one major food bank or one major pantry in Jersey during Sandy,” Tepper continued on CNBC. “You can’t tell me this is a charitable, giving person. When you live in these places and you are living with your people and you’re supposedly a multi-billionaire, and not one dime [donated] for the people in their greatest hour of need.”

It’s unclear what kind of NFL owner Tepper will be since his 5% stake in the Steelers gave him little say with Rooney’s team (he will sell his Pittsburgh stake upon purchasing the Panthers). Clues on how he deals with employees and foes are dropped throughout a 2010 New York Magazine feature about his firm, which earned $7.5 billion by betting on the government to bail out the big banks in ’09.

A few other bits about Tepper gleaned from the New York Magazine feature: He bought a mansion in the Hamptons that had been owned by the ex-wife of the man who passed him over for a partnership at Goldman. He has a “cartoonishly huge” set of brass testicles on a plaque with the words “The Most Valuable Set of All Time” on display in his office. An unnamed former employee said he had stuff thrown at him by Tepper and described his personality “like Jekyll and Hyde.”

Those personality traits—and wall adornments—may follow him to Carolina. What seems certain is that his feud with Trump, one of the NFL’s biggest agitators, will soon be set for another round.

“This is a guy, and you talk about calamity, this is a guy that has to remind himself on the podium to stay on message,” Tepper told CNBC. “‘Stay on message, Donald. Stay on message.’ The reason people are nervous about this guy is, is he going to get in the Oval Office and say, ‘Don’t press that button, Donald. Don’t press that red button.’ It could be dangerous. I don’t want a guy that talks like that to himself after he’s reminding himself to stay on message.

“It makes people nervous. And that’s economics. If the world’s destroyed, I don’t have anything. So that’s not good for me.”

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