Thursday, April 18, 2013

Another black cloud over Cleveland

What in the world did Cleveland do to deserve such rotten luck with owners of their professional sports teams?

The Indians have the Dolan family, whose penurious ways have led to nothing but mediocrity for the better part of the last decade.

Then there’s Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose famous temper has created a schism between him and LeBron James that might prevent James from returning in the future. OK, that last part is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but the department of you never know has come up with a few surprises.

Suffice it to say, though, the Cavs have not gotten any better since James departed three years ago. Gilbert, it appears, has surrounded himself with the wrong people.

And now comes word that new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III is in big trouble with the federal government. Seems that Haslam's other company, Pilot Flying J, has been accused of engaging in fraudulent business practices for many years.

The FBI, which raided Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this week, does not throw the word “fraud” around loosely. Certainly not when it produced a 120-page affidavit to a search warrant.

This is serious stuff.

Now I don’t know to pretend to know exactly what’s going on down there in Knoxville. In fact, I really don’t understand it.

But when the FBI arrives and points serious fingers of accusation at someone, I do know they don’t do it because it’s a slow day at the office. The smoke-fire relationship is definitely in play here. Haslam has denied all charges and most probably will fight the government’s allegations.

The owner has apologized to the City of Cleveland and fans of his team for what is a lot more than a small inconvenience. It reflects poorly on the football team.

To be more specific, it’s downright embarrassing and casts a large shadow over the man many fans had hoped would finally end the lethargy that has embraced this franchise since it was resurrected in 1999.

Even with the National Football League college draft a week away, most thoughts are not whom the Browns are going to draft. The much bigger story is whether Haslam is a criminal.

We don’t know that. Yet. And until due process is played out, withholding judgment might be the best course of action. But the fact it reflects in any way on Cleveland and the Browns sure takes on an aroma that is less than satisfying.

Most of us thought the Browns were on the precipice of turning a corner with this fresh blood. Here was Haslam, the polar opposite of Randy Lerner in the personality and visibility department.

He was extremely comfortable stepping onto a much larger stage than he had ever encountered in the business world. Here was this Tennessee billionaire who plunked down one of his billions for the right to do so. Even bought a home in the Cleveland area. He and his wife seem to have made a lot of Cleveland friends along the way.

And now this.

Maybe the Dolan family and Gilbert aren’t so bad after all.

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