BOSTON -- Jimmy Haslam wanted to get something off his chest.
The newest member of the most powerful fraternity in sports, unanimously approved in October as Cleveland Browns owner, came to the NFL meetings Tuesday with the sticky predicament of a federal investigation hanging over his family-owned business.
When it became public in mid-April -- with FBI and IRS agents raiding the Knoxville-based headquarters of Pilot Flying J pursuing allegations of fraud, conspiracy and other misdeeds -- it hit the image-conscious NFL like a ton of bricks.
So, with league owners gathered at an airport hotel, the CEO of Pilot Flying J felt obliged to offer some explanation to his new business partners. And as he stood before them, he apologized, too, for any damage done to the NFL brand.
"I know he feels a sense of embarrassment," New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "He said they're going to do everything they can to get it under control and put it behind them, and that he felt bad for the attention that it brought to the Cleveland franchise and the NFL, and he was going to make it right."
Haslam addressed his fellow owners for about five minutes just before a lunch break, after business that included a vote to secure $200 million in G-4 financing for the Atlanta Falcons stadium project and approval for Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis' purchase of a small share of the team from a minority stakeholder.
It wasn't on the agenda. But Haslam, with the owners gathered for the first time since the raid, had asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if he could speak to the group.
The floor was his.
"I thought it was important," Haslam told USA TODAY Sports after the meetings adjourned. "We're partners in the NFL. I wanted to address them face-to-face."
By the accounts of three owners and another key team executive who shed light on Haslam's address, the Browns owner -- who similarly addressed a group of clients, including some alleged victims, at a trucking convention in Indianapolis last week -- scored major points in strengthening his NFL ties.
Perhaps most important, the executives contended, Haslam seemed sincere in maintaining that he wasn't personally involved in the scheme to allegedly short-change some companies that had purchased fuel in large volumes and had earned rebates from Haslam's travel centers.
Sounding genuine was crucial, given the little time Haslam has had to built trust within the fraternity.
"Personally, hearing Mr. Haslam explain his full situation, I was very touched by it," New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. "The complexity of the situation, I don't fully understand. But he was open. I admire him for taking a very proactive position."
To the NFL owners, behind the closed doors of a second-floor ballroom, Haslam outlined some of the internal measures he has undertaken with Pilot Flying J, which include an audit review and the hiring of a compliance officer. He also offered to speak additionally in private about his issues with any owners who wanted further explanation.
"He is the new kid in town in terms of NFL ownership," Tisch said. "And to sort of deal with an issue like this in the first quarter is impressive."
No one in NFL ownership circles is probably more familiar with Haslam than Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II. Before purchasing the Browns for $1 billion, Haslam owned a minority stake in the Steelers for three years. Rooney saw Haslam's remarks on Tuesday as appropriate.
"He doesn't want to bring any embarrassment on to fellow owners," Rooney said.
During the vetting process to approve Haslam, which included an extensive background check by NFL Security, apparently no wrongdoing was uncovered. Officially, the NFL has said little about Haslam's situation with Pilot Flying J but maintained from the onset that he would not be asked to relinquish control of the Browns during the investigation.
Rooney said he "was shocked" upon learning of the case, which federal agents supported with a 120-page affidavit that primarily targets sales executives and staffers.
"I felt like it's nothing Jimmy would become involved in," Rooney said. "I feel like I know Jimmy.
"He's not someone who'd be breaking the law."
Although issues at Pilot Flying J are not linked to the NFL, Haslam's connection to both entities --and the NFL's widespread presence -- makes it an NFL problem, too. But Haslam, who said the company has "been very transparent throughout the process," has taken a crucial step.
"He handled himself in a very professional way and spoke about what the NFL and the Cleveland market means to him, how important it is that he make both parties proud," Kraft said. "They have a huge company. Maybe they didn't have all the controls that they wanted. He was very impressive in explaining that. I thought it was classy."