Why Is the NFL Dragging Its Feet on Discipline for Colts Owner Jim Irsay?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 15, 2014

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On July 11, the Indianapolis Colts released wide receiver LaVon Brazill a few days after it was announced the third-year pro would miss at least the entire 2014 season after once again violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Were it another team run by another man, this wouldn't have been that big of a story—just another sad tale of a player squandering his prodigious talents in the pursuit of getting high, and one relegated to footnote status by the implosion of Josh Gordon's career.

However, these are Jim Irsay's Colts, and in lieu of Irsay's ongoing legal situation and substance abuse issues, the Brazill situation has unleashed a volley of criticism at the apparent double standards in play.

Double standards in the media. Double standards in the Colts organization. And perhaps most alarmingly, double standards in the commissioner's office.

Because in a year when Roger Goodell has handed out suspensions like a pediatrician doles out lollipops, there hasn't been a peep in months from the league offices regarding discipline for the Colts owner.

Tim Evans of USA Today offered a quick recap of the events that led to Irsay's arrest on March 16.

Irsay agreed at the scene to take a portable breath test, though the result of that test was redacted in the records obtained by The [Indianapolis] Star. Irsay denied having consumed any alcohol, according to the arresting officer, who told a supervisor called to the scene that he "believed Irsay to be intoxicated on a substance other than alcohol."

Police also found $29,029 in cash — most of it in a briefcase and laundry bag where police also found numerous bottles containing prescription drugs — in the silver Toyota Highlander that the billionaire was driving.

Since that time, Irsay has been charged with a pair of misdemeanors and surrendered his driver's license for one year, but very little has been heard from New York.

The league's powers that be did speak at the owner's meetings back in May, according to Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

Irsay is expected to be disciplined by commissioner Roger Goodell at some point. Goodell said earlier this week at the NFL owners meetings in Atlanta that he was waiting until he received "information or more facts" before deciding the measures he would take against Irsay.

The NFL's Personal Conduct Policy says that league representatives are held to a "higher standard" and "it is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime" in a legal situation to escape discipline.

"The NFL's Personal Conduct Policy applies to all league personnel and holds all of us accountable," Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications, said in an email. "We are reviewing the matter and will take appropriate action in accordance with the policy."

Since then? Crickets.

Those crickets have brought out the boo birds, who have complained that Irsay is being treated differently because he's an owner and not a player. As Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk wrote after Brazill was released, "It's also impossible to miss the difference in treatment the player and owner receive, especially while Irsay awaits his punishment from the league."

On at least some level, those complaints aren't completely accurate. After all, if there's one thing Goodell has been as commissioner when it comes to disciplining players, it's consistently inconsistent.

It's continued into this year. Brazill, linebacker Robert Mathis of the Colts and linebacker Daryl Washington of the Arizona Cardinals? Busted, busted and busted.

Gordon, running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith? Waiting, waiting and waiting.

If Goodell decides you're going to twist in the wind for a while, then get a good grip on that rope.

Of course, Goodell isn't about to leave Irsay swinging in the breeze.

While talking with SI Now, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (who is no stranger to speaking his mind) stated that if he were commissioner, Irsay would be treated the same as any player who ran afoul of league policies.

Everybody else who's had a transgression or run in with the law has been disciplined for the most part. You try to set an example with certain individuals, and I'd think you want to keep that going and wouldn't want to change that for any one individual. But, you know...

Equal treatment for all is a fine idea. So is "setting an example." However, if everyone was treated the same under the NFL's rules, that would make it the only place in America where that actually happens.

If the NFL's players are regular, working-class folk like you and me (some wealthier than others), and Goodell and the league's office are the government and courts, then the NFL's 32 owners are the ridiculously rich people who actually run the country.

The sort of people who aren't accustomed to being "punished" by people who work for them.

And make no mistake, Goodell works for the owners just the same as every player in the league. The growth by the NFL that Goodell touts all the time doesn't fatten his wallet. It fattens his bosses'.

Every commissioner in professional sports, Goodell most certainly included, is as "independent" as the owners allow them to be. It's especially true in the NFL, and you can bet the rent Goodell has fielded more than one call with some friendly advice on how to handle the Irsay situation.

In many respects, Goodell may wind up wishing that he'd gone ahead and pulled the trigger. A fine (even a multimillion-dollar one) to a billionaire means spit. A suspension would have been 99 percent symbolic since I'm the same percentage sure Irsay would still have been elbows-deep in the Colts' day-to-day operations.

Now, however, Irsay has been ordered to testify in a custody case involving a woman who lives in a house Irsay owns. A woman who lives near where Irsay was arrested, though there's no indication on whether Irsay visited that home on the night of his arrest.

Mark Alesia and Tim Evans of The Indianapolis Star have the details of a story that likely sent Goodell reaching for the antacids:

Irsay was subpoenaed by Greg Martin, who said he is concerned about the well-being of his minor children, ages 17 and 12, when they are in Irsay's presence. Irsay was arrested March 16 just before midnight and faces two charges of impaired driving, and has spent time in a drug rehabilitation facility.

In a June 17 letter to the court, Martin stated that his children were in the home of his ex-wife, Jami Martin, on the night of Irsay's arrest. The home, which Irsay bought for $1 million in February, is a few blocks from where he was arrested by Carmel police.

The more this thing devolves into a soap opera, the more public pressure will grow for Irsay to face actual discipline. There's already been talk from some, including ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha, that the Colts should face the forfeiture of draft picks:

If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell really wants to send a message to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, he shouldn't be thinking solely about a steep fine or a suspension. Goodell also should be eyeing taking away draft picks, which are the only currency that has real value when it comes to disciplining wealthy men in team sports. The minute Goodell snatched a second-round pick or even a couple of mid-round selections from somebody as powerful as Irsay, the entire league would take notice. His credibility also wouldn't be nearly as questionable as it's become in the wake of this entire episode.

Barring a thermonuclear revelation, though, that isn't going to happen. The league will keep right on dragging its feet before finally announcing a fine and "suspension" that will amount to a slap on the wrist.

The players, media and some fans (mostly those outside the state of Indiana) will be outraged.

And then the players will go back to getting ready for the upcoming season. And the media will move on to the next story. And fans will see football being played and gladly settle in for another season of NFL action.

In other words, life in the NFL will go on.

That doesn't make the fact that Irsay will be treated differently from the players any more right or fair than making Irsay (and his battle with addiction) the "villain" of this tale.

Bailing on Brazill after talking with Bob Kravitz of The Star at length about the importance of not demonizing addiction? Well, that's another story.

At the end of the day, all it means is that the NFL is just like everywhere else in that the Golden Rule applies.

He who has the gold, makes the rules.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.


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