On Tuesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam that it will be “business as usual” for his football team as Haslam deals with an FBI and IRS investigation of the family-owned billion-dollar business he runs.
Browns fans would agree completely.
A franchise that has spent a generation in turmoil now has more of it. According to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland, the ongoing investigation into alleged fraud committed during the application of customer discounts and rebates could result in Haslam temporarily relinquishing control of the team.
“This is worse than a dark cloud. This is a funnel cloud,” a source with knowledge of the legal system and the inner workings of the NFL told Grossi.
Haslam was attending draft meetings on Thursday when the news broke of the 120-page affidavit that supported the issuance of a search warrant at the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J.
“I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable,” Haslam said in a statement issued on Thursday.
The league hasn’t commented, but according to Grossi one possibility would be to appoint a family member who falls completely beyond the reach of the Pilot Flying J investigation to oversee the operations of the Browns during the investigation.
It really shouldn’t matter; Haslam has hired Joe Banner to run the team. Banner has hired Mike Lombardi to run the front office. And the Browns have hired Rob Chudzinski to be the coach. The owner, whoever it is, simply needs to get out of the way.
For example, what meaningful input could Haslam possibly provide in draft meetings on Thursday? “I once saw that guy play against UT. He’s pretty fast.”
So it really won’t matter if Haslam doesn’t have his hands at controls he’s not qualified or skilled to operate. Still, the mere existence of the investigation is a body blow to a franchise that has been crippled by poor performance and periodic controversy since the team was resurrected in 1999.
As a a result, plenty of fans likely are pining for the good old days, when the team was run by (as Grossi once accidentally put on Twitter) the world’s most irrelevant billionaire.
Sometimes, it’s good to be regarded as irrelevant. Especially by the federal government.