Asked about the Broncos’ ownership drama, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chose his words carefully during his state-of-the-league address Wednesday in Miami while also making it clear he supports the Pat Bowlen Trust as its currently constituted.
Which could be construed as a significant opinion considering Pat Bowlen’s two oldest daughters, Amie and Beth, are challenging the validity of their father’s trust.
Goodell was asked about remarks made a month ago by Broncos’ chief executive officer Joe Ellis, who also serves as trustee to the Pat Bowlen trust. Ellis said then he would have little choice but to put the Denver Broncos up for sale if all seven of Bowlen’s children didn’t get behind the trustees plan to groom 30-year-old daughter Brittany Bowlen as the team’s eventual principal owner.
"It starts with what Pat Bowlen’s wishes were," Goodell said. "He established the trust to make sure there was orderly transition of the franchise if something should happen to him. Unfortunately, it did."
Pat Bowlen died in June following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
"Pat wanted to make sure the franchise was in good hands, good management," Goodell continued. "He understood the importance of the league policies, and he supported that.
"He was one of the best league men I knew. I talked to him probably every day, both as commissioner in my earlier years and also as chief operating officer. He wants his franchise, the Denver Broncos, to continue to have that success. That’s why he set up the trust the way he did.
"So, for us, we want to make sure that his wishes are followed. I don’t think he’d be happy about the public disputes that are going on. Unity is something that I think as an organization in the NFL, you have one person who makes a decision on the behalf of the ownership group and that’s a vital and principle point in our ownership policy. That is what Pat understood. He wanted that, and we need to have that in the case of all franchises, so that at some point in time we’ll have to develop in the context of the Broncos."
For now, it’s not up to Goodell to decide. Amie Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace have sued the three trustees of their father’s trust – Ellis, general counsel Rich Slivka and family attorney Mary Kelly – contending their father lacked mental capacity when his latest trust was executed in 2009.
Beth Bowlen Wallace publicly stated on May 31, 2018 she is ready to become the Broncos’ controlling owner. An Arapahoe County District judge is scheduled to begin hearing arguments of the civil trial on September 1.
Once the court rules, though, Goodell and the NFL ownership must approve the Broncos’ ownership plan. And Goodell let it be known Wednesday he favors the trustees plan.
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