It took about five minutes for the first text to come from a union team official once Roger Goodell announced that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay would be suspended six games and fined $500,000 for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy.
"Bulls--t penalty," the player said. "Roger taking it easy on his boss."
A few more texts from team player reps buzzed in, and they all took similar tones. Some of the key words: "bulls--t," "crap," "double standard," "players get judged harsher" … you get the picture.
When someone on Twitter asked Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe about the punishment, he wrote:
ESPN analysts Herm Edwards and Mark Brunell said the punishment was light. That's the sentiment among players. Players, in general, don't trust Goodell. They believe that if a player had been stopped by police while driving drunk with a bag of pills and cash, as Irsay was, Goodell's punishment of the player would have been so stern that it would have lasted into the afterlife.
"A player would be gone a year," one player told me.
Thing is, it's just not true.
When you truly dig deep into what Goodell did—look really, really hard—and do so in a calm manner, Goodell got it right. He got it dead on. That's not a popular stance, but it's accurate.
This is a fact: A player with a first-offense DUI misdemeanor, which Irsay got, would receive no suspension and a maximum fine of $50,000, per the CBA.
So if the goal was to hold an owner to a higher standard than a player—which is exactly what should happen—then that's what Goodell accomplished. Irsay's suspension was six games longer than what a player would have received, and the fine was 10 times higher.
Sure, Irsay is a billionaire, and $500,000 is what he pays for his suits. The television contract alone gives owners hundreds of millions of dollars. Even with a half-mil hit, Irsay would still have plenty of cash to buy as many pills or Twitter accounts as he wants.
It's also fair to point out, as one veteran player did, that when players are suspended, they lose money. Irsay ostensibly can still make money.
Yet $500,000 isn't chump change. It's also the maximum allowed under NFL rules. Then there's this. Since 2008, according to the NFL, 70 players have been fined $50,000 for a first-time DUI offense and none have been suspended. Again, Irsay's punishment is far greater. Again, as it should be.
But players wanted blood. They wanted Irsay nailed to the front of the stadium. I get that. But there is only so much blood Goodell could take.
Irsay's statement was typical Irsay. He wrote:
I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere. Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community.
In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health. I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country’s terrible and deadly problem of addiction. It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases—one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth. I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community. Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season.
Owners are easy to hate because they have fat wallets and do sometimes act as if they are above the rules. Yet, while Goodell occasionally has punished players too harshly, it would be hypocritical to ask him to then overly punish owners.
There is also a structural flaw that Goodell simply can't overcome. Irsay is his boss. The punishment, to me, was stiff, but there is no group of people tighter than NFL owners. I don't think Goodell could have suspended Irsay longer without an owner revolt.
NFL owners aren't NBA owners. Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, was able to rally owners when it came to booting Donald Sterling out of the sport because those owners can be rallied. NFL owners are like individual czars. They are harder to corral because the money is greater, and while the NFL is socialism, owners are extremely individualistic. They would have no problem running Goodell out of office and implementing a true stooge.
Goodell successfully straddled a brutal line. He sent a message to Irsay, doled out a firm punishment, while making sure the owners didn't can his ass. It was, in many ways, brilliant politics.
But also effective politics. It worked. It was dead on.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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