NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has consistently said the league's conduct policy applies just as stringently to executives as it does to players. On Tuesday, Goodell backed up his words with action, handing down a six-game suspension to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was the first to report the news:
Colts owner Jim Irsay suspended 6 games, fined $500K per source— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 2, 2014
Per terms of suspension, #Colts owner Jim Irsay can’t be at club facility, attend practice or league functions or be active on social media— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 2, 2014
The NFL later confirmed the news in a release:
Terms of the suspension imposed by Commissioner Roger Goodell include the following:
- During the suspension, which takes effect at 5 p.m. ET tomorrow, Mr. Irsay may not be present at the club’s facility, may not attend any practices or games, may not represent the club at league or league committee meetings or at any other team or league event, and may not conduct media interviews or engage in social media regarding any team or league matters.
- In addition, Mr. Irsay is fined $500,000, the maximum permitted under league rules.
- Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling, and testing as determined by medical professionals and the Indiana court.
The heavy penalty shouldn't be a surprise to Irsay, as the release also mentions he agreed that owners should be held to a higher standard:
Commissioner Goodell noted that no draft choice forfeiture or other competitive sanction will be assessed because the conduct did not have competitive consequences.
In a letter to Mr. Irsay, Commissioner Goodell said, "I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players. We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard."
Irsay, 55, was charged with four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence following a March arrest. He was allegedly driving with prescription pill bottles and $29,000 in cash when police pulled him over for a routine traffic stop.
After further investigation, Irsay's charges were later reduced to two misdemeanors. He reached a plea agreement that was finalized today (via Jeremy Brilliant of WTHR):
Jim Irsay pleads guilty to OWI but 2nd charge dismissed.— Jeremy Brilliant (@JeremyWTHR) September 2, 2014
Jim Irsay license suspended for 1 year for refusing breath test. 1 year probation. Must undergo drug testing.— Jeremy Brilliant (@JeremyWTHR) September 2, 2014
Jim Irsay not allowed to drink alcohol for next year & must provide prescriptions for all medications.— Jeremy Brilliant (@JeremyWTHR) September 2, 2014
The owner released a statement on his punishment, according to Eye on Football:
Irsay has kept a low public profile since his arrest. He entered himself into drug and alcohol rehabilitation in March for a nearly two-month stay. In his first public interview since his arrest, Irsay opened up on his addiction and recovery in an interview with Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
These diseases, both alcoholism and addiction, much like bipolar or depression and different illnesses, are still not seen as real diseases. People shy away from seeking help because it's viewed as being somewhat morally off the path, that they've lost their way. I really think the disease aspect gets lost when you're talking about alcoholism and addiction—it's not like you're battling leukemia or a heart problem. It is that. But even in 2014, there's still this stigma.
Irsay checked out of rehab in May and has resumed his full-time duties in the Colts front office. He was part of Indianapolis' presentation to host Super Bowl LII, which was awarded to Minneapolis. He's been strident in his hopes of getting back to work.
"I'd say my focus is on the season, my focus is on making the Colts the best team in the NFL," Irsay told Kravitz. "I'm completely engaged and have always been engaged, even when I was in rehab. Your paper acted like my kids were running the team and I was in some kind of coma and that's just not the truth."
The NFL, until now, has stayed consistently mum on its plans for a punishment. Goodell, who has previously come down on players in the past who hadn't been formally charged, maintained he would wait for the legal process to play out. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello cited the lack of formal charges—it took months after his arrest for Irsay to be properly booked—as the reason for the inaction.
“We are monitoring the legal proceedings, as we would in any matter of this nature,” Aiello wrote in an e-mail to Ryan Glasspiegel of The Big Lead. “Once it is clarified by the court, we would take additional steps as necessary.”
The NFL Players Association also took keen interest in how the league handled the case. NFLPA president Eric Winston told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that the association was "watching," saying owners should be held more accountable in these situations than players. Executive director DeMaurice Smith offered harsh criticism of the league office in May:
The commissioner understands that there is a significant credibility gap that exists in the National Football League. What troubles our players is the speed and the deliberateness of the punishment that they have seen in the past when it comes to a player. There isn't the same speed or deliberate action when it comes to an owner, and that's a problem.
Irsay's punishment should help alleviate concerns of preferential treatment.
Irsay is the first owner suspended since Paul Tagliabue banned then-49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. for the 1999 season after he was found guilty of failing to report a felony in the corruption case against former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo later turned over control of the franchise to relatives in the York family, who still run the franchise now.
Irsay is not expected to leave his post as Colts owner. He will be eligible to return to his day-to-day duties following the suspension. Irsay will be eligible to return on October 9, per the league's release. The Colts have not named who will run the franchise in his absence.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.