David Tepper’s blockbuster purchase of the Carolina Panthers is expected to be confirmed by NFL owners this week, but before then, the billionaire hedge fund manager, who has been a minority owner of the Steelers, reaffirmed his connection to Pittsburgh and shared an emotional moment.
A native of that city, Tepper gave a commencement address Sunday at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his MBA in 1982. He recounted his rise from relatively humble beginnings, as a “kid from the streets of Pittsburgh,” and the important lessons his father taught him, then added that his father “had a bad side, too.”
“He was physically abusive to me,” Tepper told his audience of graduates, school officials and guests, including his 86-year-old mother and another CMU alumnus and commencement speaker, actor Ted Danson. “I’m sure it was a cycle that he got from his father, and his father got from his father.
“In my young life, there was nothing more terrifying,” Tepper continued, fighting back tears. “There was no greater adversity, but I prayed to God that I would never be the same to my children.
“And I’m proud to say that what I view as the greatest accomplishment of my life — I broke that cycle!” he exclaimed, to applause. Tepper paused to take sip of water and gather himself, telling the crowd with a chuckle, “Now I’m shaking.”
The 60-year-old Tepper had begun his remarks by promising “as much honesty and personal life experience as I can muster.” He referred to his impending acquisition of the Panthers, saying, “All of you have had, and I can promise you will have, challenges, disappointments and triumphs. I’m no different. On the triumph side — this has been a hell of a week!”
“A kid from the streets of Pittsburgh, who had to work his way through college at Pitt and grad school at CMU, just got an honorary doctorate and is giving a commencement speech at this university,” said Tepper, for whom CMU’s business school was named after he gave the school a $55 million gift in 2004.
“A kid who couldn’t afford to go to an NFL game until well into his 20s,” he continued, showing more emotion, “is on the verge of getting the NFL’s approval to buy the Carolina Panthers. Not too shabby.”
Tepper is reportedly spending somewhere between $2.2 billion and $2.3 billion to buy the Panthers from franchise founder Jerry Richardson, a price that would set a record for a U.S. team. He emerged from a field of several bidders and, having gone through a vetting process, is expected to get the support he needs from at least three-quarters of the NFL’s owners when they convene this week in Atlanta at a spring meeting.
Tepper will have to sell his minority stake in the Steelers, but he clearly won’t be forgetting his Pittsburgh roots, if his speech Sunday was any indication. He regaled the audience with tales of growing up in a “working-class neighborhood” where he and his friends played “touch football in the streets and tackle football in a nearby cemetery,” where they “tried not to hit the gravestones.”
A rivalry with another high school was so fierce that when they played football games, he recalled, there were “empty stands, to keep people from fighting — it was rough.” Tepper described a football field with no grass, just “dirt and rocks,” on which oil was sprinkled to keep the dust from getting too thick.
“One field goal post was against the school, the other field goal post was against a fence. If you ran out of the end zone you had real problems,” Tepper said with a smile.
When news emerged last week that Tepper had agreed to purchase the Panthers, remarks he made on CNBC in 2016 also resurfaced, in which he called Donald Trump “the father of lies.” Tepper alluded to those comments Sunday while praising his father as a hard-working man who taught him to think about “charity and those less fortunate.”
“Who do you treat better: the president or the garbage man?” Tepper said his father used to ask him. “I’m talking just generally, not about any specific president, by the way. …
“But the answer is you treat them both the same,” he added. “Both men and women — and women — deserve to be treated equally and with respect.”
Toward the end of his speech, Tepper summed things up by saying: “I’ve had an incredible life, from humble beginnings. I’ve raised three great kids, have a woman I love, I’ve had a successful business career and incredible philanthropic endeavors.
“And now I am speaking to you as a newly named doctorate, and I am on the verge of being named an NFL owner.”
(H/T Charlotte Observer)
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