Last week, I took a rare break from bashing the Carolina Panthers’ 2023 goat rodeo of a season to point out some positive developments in the team’s evolution – particularly the improved play of rookie quarterback Bryce Young. My piece also cited a column by Dianna Russini of The Athletic in which the author insisted the franchise’s thin-skinned, micromanaging owner – billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper – had turned over a new leaf.
“He’s incredibly accountable and ready to make it right,” a league source told Russini.
Just a week later, though, the Panthers season – and Tepper’s reputation – attained previously unthinkable depths during an unmitigated debacle in Jacksonville.
Having appeared to escape terminal velocity following an ugly win over the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago – and a thrilling near-comeback over the Green Bay Packers last week – Carolina experienced its worst loss in decades on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, guaranteeing Tepper’s team would finish the year with the worst record in the NFL.
As for Tepper himself? As the game wound down, the irascible billionaire experienced a meltdown in the visiting owners’ box at EverBank Stadium – appearing to throw a drink on several Jaguars’ fans as his general manager, Scott Fitterer, looked on.
Tepper’s meltdown took place with approximately three minutes remaining on the clock. It immediately drew jeers from league observers – but not from the league.
“We are aware of the video and have no further comment at this time,” an NFL spokesman told The Athletic.
The Panthers declined to comment on the drink toss altogether.
Others were less inclined to hold their tongues …
“This is a flat-out rotten way to behave,” Charles McDonald wrote for Yahoo Sports. “Fights have been ignited over throwing drinks on people. It’s one of the most disrespectful, non-physical things a human can do to another. Alcohol or any beverage with backwash all over a T-shirt or an expensive jersey ain’t cool, man. Especially amid the power dynamics of Tepper being not just a team owner but also one of the singularly richest people in America.”
At last count, Tepper’s net worth was $20.6 billion – making him one of the league’s three wealthiest owners.
Anticipating a tepid response from the league – which does have the authority to discipline owners – Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated noted such a non-reaction would represent “a major middle finger to the consumer base.”
“The ruling class is immune from the kind of punishment the league office insists is doled out to the players and coaches, providing that special blend of haughty, C-suite satisfaction and lopsided justice our society knows too well,” Orr wrote.
Of course, Orr added “it’s far more of a punishment for Tepper to have to continue running a franchise that he’s steered into the ground over these past few years via his frantic mismanagement.”
He’s got that right. Since Tepper purchased the Panthers in 2018, the team has posted an atrocious 31-67 (.316) record – the second-worst mark in the league – and failed to reach the playoffs or secure a winning season. By contrast, in the five years prior to Tepper buying the team, the Panthers went 54-32-1 (.621) – reaching the playoffs four times and making it to Super Bowl 50.
Tepper has fired three coaches, run off the best player in the league in Christian McCaffrey, alienated half of his team’s fan base in the Carolinas and mortgaged the franchise’s future to draft Young – leaving the next head coach with a shortage of leadership, offensive weapons, goodwill and draft picks.
And speaking of coaches … who in the hell is going to want to come work for Tepper?
Carolina’s 26-0 loss to the Jaguars – who were playing without starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence – marked the first time the franchise had been shutout since 2002. It also marked Young’s worst game as a professional, with the 22-year-old Philadelphia native throwing for a season-low 112 yards. Young has now been held below 200 yards passing in ten games – including eight of the Panthers’ last nine contests.
Just how low can the Panthers go? As long as Tepper is running the team, that’s a question Carolina fans should probably get used to asking … although based on what happened in Jacksonville I’d probably refrain from using the “hold my beer” punchline.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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