CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - When the Carolina Panthers opened their 2020 season on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, they did so without a popular radio analyst helping to call the action from above the field.
Why didn’t Luis Moreno Jr. return to the booth to start his second decade on the job? How is it that one half of the Spanish-language broadcast duo that sang and danced (and screamed) its way into the hearts of thousands of Panthers fans during the run to the 2015 Super Bowl is still there, but the other is not?
Moreno Jr. says the answer is simple: He’s been openly supportive of President Donald Trump, and the Panthers didn’t approve.
The 42-year-old, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 14 and just became an American citizen at the end of August, had been controversy-free since going on the air en Español for the team with his uncle — play-by-play commentator Jaime Moreno — for the first time in 2010.
In fact, they became media darlings for infusing their calls with bursts of extreme enthusiasm more commonly associated with Spanish soccer announcers, and for coining off-the-wall nicknames for the team’s biggest talents.
But this past spring, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moreno Jr.'s personal life changed dramatically. Unbeknownst to him, it would bring about a dramatic change in his professional life, too.
Prior to the stay-at-home order, he says, he was too absorbed in other things to focus much on politics. While stuck at home, though, he started devouring online content related to Trump and “found out that there are a lot of things that are happening that I wasn’t aware of that make me support him.”
Sometime in April, Moreno Jr. says, he retweeted a tweet from his personal Twitter account that was supportive of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Shortly thereafter, he says, he was tagged in a tweet along with several other Trump supporters.
He says he was then contacted by Eric Fiddleman — the radio and television affiliate manager for the Panthers as well as the Spanish-language radio general manager for the two announcers; Fiddleman, he says, told him the team was requesting that he remove any information related to the Panthers from his bios on his personal social-media accounts.
Fiddleman didn’t respond to a text message from the Observer. Steven Drummond, Panthers vice president of communications and external affairs, declined to comment.
Moreno Jr. says he complied, changing his bios to include labels and hashtags that showed him to be a Trump supporter. He also continued to create and share social-media posts supportive of the president and his reelection campaign.
Among them: Posts advancing QAnon, the convoluted, pro-Trump conspiracy theory involving a shadowy group of Democratic pedophiles. (“If people really find out what QAnon is,” he says, “I think that more people would be on board because we are nothing but love and truth. All we’re trying to do is just wake up people.”)
Then, over the summer, he says Fiddleman called again — this time to say Drummond wanted to talk to him about his social-media activity. Moreno Jr. says he told Fiddleman: “If what they want me to do is stop supporting the president, I’m not gonna do that.”
His biggest objection? That, as an independent contractor, he’s not an actual employee of the Panthers, and that typically his annual contacts ended with the season and weren’t renewed until late spring, sometimes early summer. So he says he felt he had already gone out of his way for them by changing his bios even though he wasn’t being under contract with the team at the time.
He says he asked Fiddleman to have Drummond call him, and he also e-mailed Drummond asking to give him a call.
No one from the Panthers ever got back to him, Moreno Jr. says.
“Basically what I told Eric, I said, ‘Listen ... I’m not even under contract right now. I am not willing to participate in this project anymore if I’m going to be censored. So unless they call me, I’m not going to do it anymore. Because I am not OK with them censoring my freedom of speech in support of the president.’”
“I’m hurt,” he says, “because this has nothing to do with my performance on-air. This has nothing to do with how good I am at what I do. I’m one of the best, and I’ll put myself against anybody in country when it comes to what I do in Spanish. None of my support for the president was done on any of their social-media pages, it was never done on any of the airtime — whether it was a podcast or a broadcast or anything related to the Panthers. This was solely on my personal time on my personal accounts.”
Still, when asked if he understands why someone in his position might be asked to adhere to company policies regarding social-media activity, Moreno Jr. says he does.
“I’m pretty sure we would have been able to come to some type of agreement in finding sort of like a silver lining or a middle ground,” he says.
Instead, over the summer, Moreno Jr. parted ways with Fiddleman, show producer Ben Blevins, and his uncle, Jaime Moreno. And on Sunday afternoon, Jaime was in the booth with rookie color analyst Antonio Ramos, formerly the Panthers' Spanish Radio Network’s affiliate representative in Mexico.
Of Ramos, Moreno Jr. says: “He’s a great guy. I’m very proud of him and I’m very happy for the opportunity for him.”
Jaime Moreno didn’t respond to a text message from the Observer on Monday about the series of events that led to the new partnership.
But his nephew says of his now-ex-partner: “We’re fine right now. We’re not fighting or anything. We just didn’t see eye to eye. I was aware that when there was backlash, it was something that I was going to have to do on my own. And that was fine. I’m a big boy. ... I mean, I think Jaime and I, the reason why we were so successful for so long is because we’re so different that it creates such a nice contrast and balance for our broadcast.”
Moreno Jr., who was introduced to the sport while living in Mexico and starred as a fullback and linebacker for Charlotte Catholic before going on to play at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, says he’s content to keep busy as a stay-at-home dad for his children, ages 2 and 4. He also works as a bartender at The Capital Grille in uptown.
Other than that, his near-term plan is to do something he’s never before been able to do in the U.S.: vote.