Amid all the cheers last week about Charlotte getting a Major League Soccer team, there was one small troubling thing and one larger troubling thing.
The small troubling thing was something David Tepper said in the official announcement that makes him the owner of the Carolina Panthers and the new MLS team. I hate to ding Tepper for speaking off the cuff, because he has already been more entertaining in his year and a half as the Panthers owner than Jerry Richardson did in 20-some years owning the team.
But Tepper kicked off his remarks by turning to Mayor Vi Lyles and saying of the new soccer team: “I think it’s the most expensive present I ever gave a woman in my life.”
That would’ve been a dumb thing to say in a normal context. But it’s even dumber considering that Jerry Richardson’s lack of respect for his female employees is the reason he owns the Panthers – and now the soccer team – in the first place.
And besides that: Vi Lyles delivered $110 million in city money as part of the deal for the soccer team. So it sounds like she got HIM the gift.
Now, to that $110 million. Theoretically, it is not a sure thing. The City Council will hold hearings and take a public vote. Mayor Lyles got a little irritated at the press conference at the notion that the city made such a big commitment without giving a say to any members of the public – you know, the people the City Council works for.
But … come on. They did the deed right there in front of everybody. There’s no way that MLS officials would have come to town otherwise. There’s no way Tepper would have done his Elvis impersonation. There’s no way they would have given out team scarves when they don’t even have a team name yet.
Pulling out of the deal would be humiliating for everyone involved, especially the city, and Mayor Lyles knows it. This thing is happening.
And by the way – I think it’s good! Tepper tried to jump-start a rivalry with Atlanta – “We are the hot city!” he said. “Screw that other city!” But Atlanta United is the model of what Charlotte’s team can be – not only a huge draw, but something that can pull together all the strands of our increasingly global city.
And if the team headquarters and practice fields end up at the long-empty Eastland Mall site, that’s a huge bonus.
But let’s take just a second to remember that, no matter what David Tepper says, a new soccer team is not a gift. It’s a multi-million-dollar partnership involving private interests and taxpayer money. It’s fine to take a moment to celebrate. But now our city leaders need to brush the confetti out of their eyes and do the public’s business in public.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.