David Tepper is saying all the right things — he just isn’t doing them. The Carolina Panthers owner made waves this week when he insisted that he was doing his part in breaking up the NFL’s “old boys’ network” of wealthy white owners that seldomly hire Black people and minorities to positions of power, particularly as head coaches. Tepper’s comments came after hiring Frank Reich — a white coach — over the team’s former interim coach Steve Wilks — a Black coach who took over for Matt Rhule, another white coach.
Rich white dudes love telling on themselves.
“We have probably the most diverse executive team in the NFL right now. We are probably a minority of white men on our executive team right now. That’s where it starts. That’s America,” Tepper proudly bragged.
Tepper explained that the Panthers’ front office includes his wife, who serves as the chief administrative officer, along with three other women in high-ranking roles, chief administrative officer (Kristi Coleman), senior vice president (Kisha Smith, a Black woman), and general counsel (Tanya Taylor, also a Black woman.)
Anytime a white man like Tepper is quick to point something out like this, they never realize that the ability to count the number of minorities in your circle isn’t a good look.
“I’m not a racist. See, I have three Black friends!” — An old white man proverb.
“How do you break that old boys’ network? How do you break that process? You break the process by trying to get the best people possible in every role you can do,” he said. “Whether it’s the new [general counsel] we hired, who happens to be an African American woman. Whether it happens to be Frank Reich, who is a Caucasian male.”
What’s at the heart of the issue with Tepper is that he’s almost pulling a “Jerry Jones” on us. Too many people got caught up in that infamous photo of Jones from 1957 in Arkansas among a crowd of white students, “standing on the frontlines of one of Little Rock’s darkest segregation clashes,” from the Washington Post’s story, and not what it was about — as it focused on Jones’ lack of progressiveness in diversity despite all the power he wields in the NFL.
Jerry Jones has never hired a Black head coach. Tepper has never hired a Black head coach. See the connection?
What makes it worse is that the man who is claiming that he’s a diversity warrior on the mean streets of Injustice Boulevard, told us from the beginning that Wilks never had a fighting chance at being the Panthers’ permanent head coach, even before he went 6-6 after Rhule started the season 1-4.
“He’s in a position to be in consideration for that position,” Tepper said about Wilks in October. “I had a talk with Steve, no promises were made, but if he does an incredible job, he has to be in consideration.”
“Incredible job.” Think about that for a second, as you realize that Tepper moved the goalposts for Wilks before the game even started. Ironically enough, Reich was 3-5-1 in his last season coaching the Indianapolis Colts before he was fired.
Does that sound “incredible” to you?
If Tepper wanted to actually fight injustices in the NFL and show his colleagues the right way to do it, he would have hired Wilks and given him enough time to see if he could turn things around in Carolina — the same way that most of these owners do with the white coaches they love to hire. Doing the right thing isn’t hard, it just requires you not to be a coward. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a Black coach since 2007 and have yet to suffer a losing season during the Mike Tomlin era.
See, it’s not that hard.
If the NFL’s “old boys’ network” is ever going to end, it will happen when more Black coaches are hired and white owners start advocating for their colleagues to change their thinking when it comes to voting on ownership selection — as the owners have never elected a Black person to own a team.
That’s something David Tepper knows all about. When he was approved to buy the Carolina Panthers in 2018, it took place at the annual owners’ meetings. But, do you know what also happened that very week at those meetings? The owners voted to implement a national anthem policy against kneeling, which was something straight out of the “old boys’ network’s” playbook. How do I know? Because I was there when it happened.