NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed confidence in Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who is currently embroiled in a scandal involving fraud at his family-owned business.
Goodell visited Cleveland’s training camp on Thursday to launch a program between the league and Pop Warner with USA Football’s Heads Up Football Program. Following a clinic with young players, Goodell said he’s satisfied with Haslam’s handling of the federal investigation at Pilot Flying J, and added the league has no plans to intervene at this time.
“I don’t think it’s a matter for us at this moment,” Goodell said.
The commissioner said Haslam has kept him informed since the outset of the ongoing investigation. Goodell said he’s confident Haslam is doing all he can to make amends.
“He doesn’t need any pushing,” Goodell said. “This company means a lot to him and he’s obviously not happy about what has happened and he’s determined to fix it. Jimmy is more disappointed than anybody.”
Haslam has maintained he did not know about a program within his sales staff to cheat customers out of rebate and discount money. Seven employees of the truck-stop chain have pleaded guilty to defrauding customers.
Goodell said he asked Haslam if he knew about the scheme.
“He’s been very clear that he’s had no knowledge of that and he’s been clear publicly and clear with you all,” Goodell said.
Goodell called Haslam a “man of great integrity.” Goodell says Haslam has been working hard to correct the problems at Pilot Flying J, which had its headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., raided on April 15 by the FBI and IRS as part of the probe into wide-spread fraud at the company. Goodell said the league will continue to monitor the situation, but doesn’t feel it needs to be more involved.
Pressed about what the league might do if Haslam were indicted, Goodell refused to presume anything.
“We’re not going to play the hypothetical game,” Goodell said. “Right now he’s addressing the issues. We’re confident he’s going to deal with it properly. You’re dealing with a bunch of hypotheticals. We’re not going there.”
Goodell said the league was thorough in its vetting of Haslam, who was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers before he bought the Browns.
“This was a surprise to him and to his senior level management,” Goodell said. “From that standpoint, I don’t think he was aware of it and I don’t know any way we could have been aware of it. It was not disclosed to us.”
Although he was already in the league, Haslam underwent the same scrutiny as any owner, Goodell insisted.
“We go through the same process on any circumstance,” Goodell said. “When you’re going through a controlling ownership position, that’s a big step up so we don’t just pass that off. We do the same vetting process. Obviously he knows people in the league after being an owner, so there were certain aspects of that which were easier. But we didn’t short-circuit anything.”
Goodell is satisfied the investigation has not been a distraction to the Browns, who are undergoing another makeover with a new front office and coaching staff.