Colts owner Jim Irsay is going to be in Atlanta Tuesday to present Indianapolis’ bid for Super Bowl LII at the NFL’s spring meeting. He might also want to use the floor to apologize to his fellow owners and to commissioner Roger Goodell for putting him in a tough spot.
This one-day meeting, in which the owners will vote on the site of the 2018 Super Bowl, discuss playoff expansion, and consider the future of the NFL Draft, will be Irsay’s return to NFL activities since his arrest two months ago on driving while intoxicated and four drug charges. Irsay, 54, did not attend the league’s annual meeting in Orlando in March, but the Colts announced May 7 that Irsay will help present Indianapolis’ Super Bowl bid at Tuesday’s meeting. Indianapolis is competing against New Orleans and Minneapolis.
“Every owner of the franchises whose city is bidding has a chance to talk for five minutes, so [Irsay] plans on talking to the ownership,” Colts CEO Pete Ward said. “He has become increasingly more active in terms of lobbying and just keeping tabs on how things are going.”
That Irsay is even allowed to attend the meeting is surprising, given the ugly details of his arrest. Irsay, who admitted to a past drug problem but said he had been clean for the past decade, had numerous bottles of prescription pills and more than $29,000 in cash in his Toyota Highlander when he was pulled over by police around midnight going 10 miles per hour in a 35-m.p.h. zone. Irsay allegedly had trouble standing, his speech was slurred, and he couldn’t recite the alphabet, according to an arrest report via the Indianapolis Star.
A search of the car turned up $14,516 in a briefcase, $2,513 in Irsay’s wallet, and $12,000 in one of two “laundry” bags, as well as bottles of pills in a briefcase and the two bags. The report did not state what type of pills were found, but it did say they are Schedule IV drugs, which include Xanax, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, and Ambien.
Irsay checked himself into a treatment facility shortly after his arrest, but the Colts declined to say where he went or if he completed his treatment. The team’s announcement two weeks ago that Irsay would be in Atlanta did not mention his arrest or legal situation, and neither did a video interview of Irsay posted on the team’s website Monday. Irsay then declined to discuss the situation when asked by reporters.
But he obviously feels good enough to travel to Atlanta and join former Colts center Jeff Saturday and other Indianapolis leaders in bidding for the Super Bowl. Indianapolis did well in its first Super Bowl experience in February of 2012, but New Orleans is considered the favorite because 2018 is the city’s tricentennial, and Minneapolis is a strong candidate because it is projected to open a new domed stadium in 2016.
“It’s really exciting to be at it again,” Irsay said in the video.
Goodell has earned a reputation as the “Law & Order” commissioner with stiff penalties instituted on his watch for player arrests and off-field incidents. But Goodell seems to be making a clear statement by allowing Irsay to attend the spring meetings and participate in league business: NFL ownership has its privileges.
Hopefully Irsay can get help for whatever addiction issues he still may be having. This isn’t about piling on a man when he’s down.
But it’s hard to imagine a player being allowed to attend team functions under similar circumstances. And players rarely receive the amount of sympathy from the NFL and media when they mess up off the field as Irsay has since his arrest.
Ben Roethlisberger got a six-game suspension in 2010 without ever being charged with a crime. Robert Mathis and Greg Hardy have received no mercy from the media for their recent transgressions — a drug suspension for Mathis and domestic violence arrest for Hardy. Aldon Smith has not received even a fraction of the same sympathy from the general public as has Irsay for his repeated issues with alcohol.
To be accurate, Irsay still has not been formally charged with DWI or the four drug charges, each of which carries a sentence of six months to three years. According to the Star, Irsay’s blood samples are jammed up at the Indiana Department of Toxicology, which has a backlog of eight months for drug testing.
But the Irsay story doesn’t end with his arrest, either. Two weeks before his arrest, a female acquaintance of Irsay’s died of a drug overdose in a $139,500 townhouse he had bought her. Police want to know more about Irsay’s drug associations and relationship with the woman, Kimberly Wundrum. The briefcases, laundry bags, and large wads of cash found in Irsay’s car certainly paint the picture of someone with a little bit more than a recreational drug problem.
Hopefully Goodell is just being prudent before coming down on Irsay. Punishing an owner is serious business, so Goodell wouldn’t be wrong if he wanted to wait and make sure he got it right. Yet it seems that for now, everyone is OK with Irsay quietly going about his business.
If Goodell wants to maintain his credibility with the players, he needs to come down hard on Irsay eventually. Fining Irsay a six- or low-seven-figure amount and suspending him from the team aren’t enough. Money is barely an object in the NFL, which makes it hand over fist, and Irsay doesn’t have any effect on the field.
When players get in trouble, both the team and player get hurt — the player loses game checks, and the team loses a player out of its lineup. The same should occur here — a fine, a year-long suspension for Irsay, AND the loss of a draft pick. Nothing as drastic as a first-rounder, but docking the Colts a third-round pick seems more than fair.
There’s a reason the personal conduct policy explicitly includes owners. The 32 men who run the league should be held to a higher standard than the pawns who play the game on the field.Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.