Owner Jimmy Haslam, who has been widely criticized for the seeming dysfunction of the Cleveland Browns since buying the team three years ago, has one very powerful fan.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stood solidly in Haslam's corner Wednesday night at a 35-minute question-and-answer session at the Canton (Ohio) Memorial Civic Center.
"I"m a big fan of Jimmy Haslam and what he's doing," Goodell said in the city of the Hall of Fame, according to ESPN Cleveland and 92.3 The Fan. His comment was in response to a question from Dan Dierdorf, who asked all the questions (none about the league's texting investigation): "What do you have proposed, and what is on your agenda to make the Browns more competitive?"
The question brought a cheer from the crowd and laughter from Goodell.
Then he basically said he liked Haslam.
"As you know, there are very few quick fixes in this business, and the league is so competitive and you really have to build a foundation and I think Jimmy is doing that," Goodell said.
Haslam paid $1.06 billion for the team in 2012. Since then, the Browns have gone 15-26, had two head coaches, two general managers and are living through a difficult offseason that includes the year-long suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon and quarterback Johnny Manziel entering rehab. Ongoing criticism of Haslam and the team being dysfunctional has been widely reported and discussed; Haslam insists those reports are not an accurate reflection of the front office.
"If it was easy, anybody could do it," Goodell said. "These are 32 very competitive teams that are working in a very competitive league. He's learned a great deal. He's, I think, making very smart decisions for the long term.
"I think this community, and I know this is Browns country, I think they're fortunate to have Jimmy Haslam as an owner, and we're fortunate to have him as an owner in the league."
Haslam also is CEO of Pilot Flying J, a Knoxville, Tennessee, company that paid a $92 million fine to the federal government as part of a rebate fraud that led to several Pilot executives pleading guilty.
The company also paid $85 million in restitution to settle lawsuits.