Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam promised on Friday that he would continue to operate the NFL team and his family business, Pilot Flying J, amid a federal investigation into fraud with his company's rebate program.
After spending a day at Browns' headquarters in Berea, Ohio, to help the team prepare for next week's NFL Draft, Haslam returned to Tennessee. While meeting with reporters he made it clear that he would continue his roles with both the Browns and Pilot Flying J during the investigation.
"I thought to myself, 'Well, why would I do [step down]?' Candidly, I haven't done anything wrong, No. 1," Haslam said at his company's headquarters in Knoxville. "No. 2, if there's ever a time the company needs our leadership, it's right now."
Earlier, Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, said the league had no intention of asking Haslam to step down. Aiello said in an email to CBSSports.com that the league is not concerned about the daily operations of the Browns and that "there are no such plans" to have Haslam remove himself temporarily from the team.
While the league has no plans at this time to take action, Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com says some NFL team owners are "absolutely terrified."
Freeman reports that one NFL source said, "More than a few owners are scared to death. The fear is that even if he did nothing wrong, the damage of the investigation alone, and the headlines that come with it, could damage a Browns organization trying to steady itself."
Haslam purchased the Browns last year from Randy Lerner for more than $1 billion. Lerner still maintains 30 percent of the team, but his shares will transfer to Haslam in four years.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Friday that Haslam's brother, Bill, the governor of Tennessee, released a statement saying he "has faith in Pilot to do the right thing, and he continues to have absolute faith in his brother's integrity."
As Haslam wrapped up his news conference on Friday, he was asked if he'll lead the Browns to a Super Bowl.
"Eventually, yes," he said, smiling.