Well, we were told that these weren’t going to be the same old Browns. We were promised change and excitement. We were led to believe that things would be different. Well… I think that’s exactly what we got.
You see, for all of the bumbling and stumbling that was associated with the Randy Lerner era, we never had to worry about the FBI and IRS knocking on his door. The same apparently cannot be said for new owner Jimmy Haslam, who on Monday became the target of a federal investigation involving rebates at his Pilot Flying J corporate headquarters. Yes, this is certainly new and different all right.
To make matters worse, Haslam went in front of the media on Tuesday and addressed the situation saying that the claims came from an insignificant number of customers and that himself and his company would cooperate fully with investigators. He also said the last thing he wants to do is put a blemish on Cleveland or the Browns.
As it turns out, a federal court affidavit filed Thursday states that the Pilot Flying J rebate scandal has been going on for several years and that several key executives, Haslam included, knew about the scheme and even encouraged it in order to swindle hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars out of smaller less sophisticated trucking companies.
Among the allegations against Pilot Flying J are, in no particular order… conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud. All of which could carry significant jail time and financial punishment. Well, isn’t that just spectacular. On the plus side, the Browns should become all the rage with hipsters. Their bright orange helmets immediately become horribly ironic.
So what does it all mean? In the short run it serves as further proof that God hates Cleveland. It also means we can integrate prison stripes in any future uniform designs. So there’s that.
However, over the long term this could become an unprecedented case for the NFL and its owners. After all, the long standing position of the league is to preserve the image of “the shield.” Having one of your owners, who just so happens to own one of the league’s premier franchises, possibly going to prison for fraud flies right in the face of that ideal. One has to think that right now Roger Goodell’s head is about to explode.
How does the league even begin to address this? Do they force Haslam to step down from the team until the investigation is concluded? If so, for how long? One has to believe that this investigation could go on for months. And what happens if Haslam is found to have been heavily invovled in the corruption? Is he forced to sell the team? Is the deal with Randy Lerner recinded? I can’t believe that would be a viable option. I can’t imagine the league wanting to give the team back to an owner that was so incompetent he couldn’t even get selling the team right.
This whole situation is unbelievable. It flies in the face of logic. How can one team and one city have so much go wrong? How hard is it to build a competent, winning football team? In the case of the Browns, apparently it’s impossible.
So say what you want about the Browns and this current situation we find ourselves in. Yes, it’s embarrassing and yes, it’s going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. Just don’t say these are the same old Browns. The same old Browns never would have had something like this happen.
Welcome to the new age, folks.