Do NFL owners get free racketeering passes?



FitzbeatsquareHaving grown up in Chicago, I think I know a thing or two about racketeering and fraud. Have you heard of Al Capone? The National Football League, the game we love, has two franchise owners, one in each conference, who are in deep trouble with the feds.

Cleveland Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslem has since April been under investigation by the FBI for his involvement and ownership in Pilot Flying J. Several of his employees have already been arrested, and lawsuits are piling up.

The Vikings shared ownership of Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf was recently slammed by a New Jersey Judge for violating state racketeering laws and using fraudulent bookkeeping practices. The Wilfs bought the Vikings in 2005 from Red McCombs for $600 million and last year agreed to partner with the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota on a billion-dollar new stadium.

You see, many billionaire owners make or, in the case of these two ownerships, take their wealth from their private practices and other businesses. When NFL players get in trouble for things like assault, drugs, drinking, DWI’s, murder charges, etc., they are suspended, fined, and/or released.

Roger Goodell has been consistent in his strong-arm approach to the discipline of NFL players. Protect the NFL shield, we understand — no graffiti on the NFL. Are Goodell’s hands tied? Or because the 32 NFL owners just happen to sign his $19 million salary, does he do whatever he is told?

Don’t fool yourself: This is serious business and draws into question who Cleveland and Minnesota are doing business with.

The due process is ongoing for both owners, Haslem and the Wilfs; but when a judge says you showed “bad faith and evil motive,” I think of Capone. Who do you think of?

Remember, when you are dealing with federal and state violations under the Rico Act, there are no limitations. The Wilfs will say this was 21 years ago. Give the NFL credit for this: They sure know how to market games and will find a way to make the most of this troubling, disturbing, embarrassing situation.

The Vikings will host the Cleveland Browns in week three in their home opener for the first time in team history. I can see it now: Several federal agents will be dressed up as season ticket holders like Browns and Vikings fans. The Racketeering Bowl I at Mall of America Field! Sunday, September 22, at high noon on CBS!


Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to, or visit