The Cleveland Browns say they have welcomed an NFL investigation into the allegations Hue Jackson made in February that he was incentivized to lose games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons while serving as Cleveland’s head coach.
On Monday night, Sports Illustrated reported Mary Jo White, former chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is leading an independent probe into Jackson’s pay-to-tank accusations.
“We can confirm the NFL engaged former SEC chair Mary Jo White in February to look into allegations made by Hue Jackson against the Cleveland Browns,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy wrote in an email to the Beacon Journal. “The review is ongoing and is expected to conclude soon.”
“Even though Hue recanted his allegations a short time after they were made, it was important to us and to the integrity of the game to have an independent review of the allegations,” Browns senior vice president of communications Peter John-Baptiste said via text message. “We welcomed an investigation and we are confident the results will show, as we’ve previously stated, that these allegations are categorically false. We have fully cooperated with Mary Jo White and look forward to the findings.”
In February, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo sent to all teams and league staff “any issue relating to the integrity of NFL games … will be reviewed thoroughly and independently.”
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Jackson, the head football coach at Grambling State University, told Sports Illustrated, “Two years ago I tried to do this the right way, through the bylaws and constitution of the National Football League, to ask them to investigate the Cleveland Browns for all the allegations that I’ve made. So why open an investigation now?”
White has been hired by the NFL to investigate allegations made by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores that owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season. Flores is suing the Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos and alleging racial discrimination by the league’s franchises in hiring practices.
When Goodell released his memo about reviewing issues related to the integrity of the game, McCarthy told the Beacon Journal the statement applied not only to the Dolphins, but also the Browns.
Jackson has said he isn’t claiming the Browns offered him payments per loss, but Jackson has accused the Browns of paying him a total of $750,000 in end-of-season bonus money as part of a four-year plan centered on fielding a young team and stockpiling draft picks in the first two seasons without a focus on winning until the third year.
“No, I was never offered money like Brian [Flores] had mentioned,” Jackson told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in February. “I think this is a totally different situation but has some similarities.
“When you talk about incentivizing a four-year plan that led to the team not being able to play as well, that people benefited off of that — that’s different. But at the same time, it has some of the same similarities to it.”
Days before the CNN interview, Jackson made stronger comments on Twitter, including that Browns owner “Jimmy Haslam was happy while we kept losing.”
A fan responded by tweeting, “Jimmy Haslam wasn’t offering … 100k per loss or Hue would be on the Forbes list.”
Jackson replied, “Trust me it was a good number!”
Kimberly Diemert, the executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation, also alleged on Twitter the Browns had paid bonus money to Jackson, former head of football operations Sashi Brown, hired this offseason as president of the Baltimore Ravens, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and General Manager Andrew Berry to tank in 2016 and 2017.
Later, in a phone interview with the Beacon Journal, Diemert stood by the statements she made on social media.
Jackson went 3-36-1 (1-15 in 2016, 0-16 in 2017 and 2-5-1 in 2018) in two and a half seasons as the head coach of the Browns before Haslam fired him on Oct. 29, 2018.
In response to Jackson’s allegations, Haslam told the Knoxville News Sentinel in February, “Unequivocally, Hue Jackson was never paid to lose games. That is an absolute falsehood. And it’s also an absolute falsehood that I laughed while we were losing. Most people who know me would say, ‘That’s not how Jimmy would react to losing.’”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.