Just 10 short days from now, the Cleveland Browns will officially open Training Camp 2013. It’s hard to believe how fast summer always flies by, but I consider Training Camp to be the beginning of the end of summer. And in just 3 weeks from yesterday, the Dolphins and Cowboys kick things off in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
Indeed, real on-field football is right around the corner. Of course, for Browns fans, on-field football seems to be about the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Instead, the story dominating Browns headlines as of late revolves around new owner Jimmy Haslam.
I wish the story was the Browns themselves. Even if that story is about how the Browns rank #31 in ProFootballTalk’s preseason rankings. Or heck, I’d even settle for more talk about the Browns potentially carrying 2 kickers on their roster. But on-field Browns news is hard to come by these days. I actually had to do a Google search to find out if Barkevious Mingo had signed a contract yet1. I was pretty sure he hadn’t, figuring I’d have heard about it if he had. But with so much talk about Jimmy Haslam, it seemed somewhat plausible that he had signed and the news just flew under the radar.
This isn’t meant as a critique of the Browns media, or of blogs such as this one. It’s much more of a critique of Jimmy Haslam’s company (for putting the Browns in this situation) and the NFL itself2. If you can stomach the pain, check out the ‘Browns’ category of this site. It’s ugly seeing the disproportionate number of articles written about off field issues. But again, we as a site can only report and opine on the news that’s given to us. And the biggest story by far continues to be the Pilot Flying J scandal.
For right now, Jimmy Haslam is insisting he didn’t know about any of Pilot Flying J’s wrongdoings and that the Browns are not for sale and that everything is going to be peachy in the long run. I want to believe him. As a Browns fan, I don’t want to think about the Browns changing hands once again and the potential of yet another front office overhaul and yet another coaching regime change.
It’s somewhat challenging as a Browns fan to know exactly how we’re supposed to feel about this. On one hand, Jimmy Haslam is the Browns owner, and as a Browns fan, there feels like an instinct to support him. But there are certain pseudo-moral qualms that go with that support.
First off, whether Haslam knew about it or not, the money he used to buy the Browns came from Pilot Flying J, a company that shrewdly defrauded less sophisticated customers out of money that was owed to them. Second of all, if this all happened under Jimmy Haslam’s nose without his knowledge, it sort of sets a bad precedent of oversight and leadership.
I realize no two companies work exactly the same, but in talking with several people who have worked in sales for large companies, they are pretty unanimous in asserting that sure it’s possible to have a CEO not know something like is going on. Maybe even plausible. But they also felt pretty strongly that a CEO who is a strong, hands-on leader would know about this at least to some degree.
We can debate whether Haslam knew about any of this, but the truth is that for now we don’t know. Instead, I want to focus on what we can control, and that is the level of support given to Jimmy Haslam.
I’ve really wrestled with this idea recently. It wasn’t that long ago that I was thrilled to have Haslam on board. He brought in people who I felt gave the front office a stronger presence and a better pedigree in that role. He brought an infectious energy to the franchise. He quickly had the team featured in a Travel Channel mini-series. Things seemed to be looking up.
Now, it’s hard to know what direction anything is heading, and that makes it somewhat difficult to reconcile how to feel about our new owner. It’s hard to know how to feel about the NFL’s culpability in more or less serving the Browns on a platter to Haslam without a thorough vetting process3. And most of all, it’s hard to understand why this has to be happening to the Browns.
In 10 days, hopefully the narrative switches. I’m sure it will for the most part. Training Camp is exciting, and for the media, it’s a chance to finally see some players in action and get daily quotes and information from coaches, staff, players, etc. But it’s naïve to think that Haslam won’t continue to be a big part of the story. And that’s really the saddest part of all for Browns fans. There’s no real end in sight to this story, and many Browns fans will be left struggling to balance support of the Cleveland Browns with support for Jimmy Haslam.
Short of selling the Browns tomorrow, the best thing for the franchise would be to move forward with Jimmy Haslam remaining as owner. For Haslam to never face charges or have evidence brought up proving his direct knowledge. If that happens, this could all be over in a year or so.
The worst case scenario for fans and the franchise itself would be for the owner to fight and scramble to hang onto the franchise, only to eventually have to give it up a couple years from now. It would mean prolonged doubt, dwindling resources, and general confusion for a couple years, only to start all over again at a later time.
Either way, the fans lose. What are we supposed to be rooting for here? You want the owner to be the kind of CEO who knows everything that is going on in his company. But if that’s the case, then it means he knew about the scam and did nothing to stop it. So is it better for Browns fans to have an owner who was blindsided by his subordinates?
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but as Browns fan, I’m apprehensive as to what the future holds and conflicted about how to feel about Jimmy Haslam. And that’s an unfortunate situation to be in just 10 days from Training Camp.
- he hasn’t [↩]
- hey NFL, thanks for the hand-picked new owner of the Browns! [↩]
- I know the NFL will insist Haslam was vetted through the Steelers organization. I’m sure they’ll say ‘How could we possibly know this was going to happen?’ But the NFL Owners Fraternity, along with the NFL itself, is comprised of some of the most powerful people in America. I find it hard to believe the NFL couldn’t have at least gotten word from the FBI from a confidential source that there might be some dirt on Haslam and that the NFL should tread lightly. But maybe that’s expecting too much on my part [↩]