Jim Irsay isn't off the hook just yet, but a lot of players are unhappy with his disciplinary process. (Darron Cummings/AP)
On Friday, the Hamilton County, Indiana Prosecutor's office charged Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay with one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and one count of operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the body.
Both charges are Class C misdemeanors, and are in connection with a March 16 traffic stop in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel in which Irsay was suspected of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. At the time, Irsay faced four felony counts after failing multiple field sobriety tests, and police found prescription drugs in his car that were, according to the Indianapolis Star, "not associated with any prescription bottles found in the vehicle.”
After the arrest, Irsay was admitted to inpatient treatment at an out-of-state medical facility, which delayed the actual filing of charges.
"We want to thank the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office for its professionalism in its investigation regarding Mr. Irsay and for devoting the necessary care and attention to determine the facts in this matter did not warrant the filing of felony charges relative to Mr. Irsay's prescription medications," Irsay's legal representation said in a statement. "Mr. Irsay will deal with the remaining misdemeanor charges through the judicial process."
In a statement, the NFL said that it is considering possible discipline against Irsay.
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"The NFL's Personal Conduct Policy applies to all league personnel and holds all of us accountable. We are reviewing the matter and will take appropriate action in accordance with the policy."
The league has come under considerable criticism for its handling of the Irsay matter. In a time when players are expected to toe the line, some of those players see a hypocrisy in the way Commissioner Roger Goodell has let the process play out when he's exacted discipline on players without those same considerations.
"Right now, if Jim Irsay is going to represent this league, represent the Indianapolis Colts, going to be on TV at the owners meetings, trying to bring a Super Bowl to Indianapolis after what he's done? It shows the hypocrisy of the NFL and also Roger Goodell in the way that he deals with players and the way he deals for the people he works for," Washington Redskins safety Ryan Clark told ESPN on Wednesday.
"He's always said, 'Well, I don't work for the owners.' That's not true. Because in the CBA negotiations, you were sitting with the owners."
Asked about the process at the most recent owners meetings this week, Goodell was circumspect.
"There have been no charges," he said. "So the answer is, until we have more information or more facts, we will let it play out."
Clark was not moved.
"When does a charge necessarily warrant the penalty? We've seen in so many cases, Roger Goodell be judge and jury when it comes to players. So here we have Jim Irsay, a guy, an owner, who has history of substance abuse, who's found in a car with over $29K and prescription drugs that weren't in his name, pulled over for driving under the influence, and now we're saying we need more information? What more information do we need than these aren't your prescription pills? You're obviously under the influence. You have $29k. There would be no questions asked if this was a player."
Current NFLPA president and longtime offensive lineman Eric Winston had similar things to say on the subject.
"I don't understand why the discipline for an owner of one of these 32 teams that hold the shield of the league is compared to a 22-year-old kid," Winston said to Pro Football Talk on Thursday. "That's what I don't understand, is why are we trying to compare? To me, there should be a much higher standard for an owner, there should be no doubt because I think he represents that team, and that's what we've always said about the shield, right?
"To me it's not an apples-to-apples situation, it's a situation where we have an owner who has unfortunately gotten into some trouble, and I don't understand why we're trying to compare it to ... a player. This guy is an owner of a National Football League team, and to me that should mean so much more and in a way that he should be held to a much higher standard. And that's just my opinion of this situation."
The situation which perhaps most closely mirrors Irsay’s happened in 2010, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him for 30 days (later reduced to 21) after Lewand was convicted on a charge of operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
“You occupy a special position of responsibility and trust and -- as you have publicly acknowledged -- your conduct must be consistent with someone in that position,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Lewand. “As we have discussed, those who occupy leadership positions are held to a higher standard of conduct that exceeds what is ordinarily expected of players or member of the general public.
“I commend you for your candor, your willingness to accept responsibility and your publicly stated recognition that this incident affects the reputation of the Lions and the NFL.”
Of course, suspending an owner is a different story. The only time that’s happened in the modern era was when former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. was suspended for a year in 1999 and fined $1 million after he was convicted of failure to report a felony. DeBartolo had paid what has been described as $400,000 in extortion money to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license approval. DeBartolo eventually ceded control of the team.
“Eddie pled guilty to a criminal charge, and it was pretty clear that had to be addressed under the rules of the league relating to the integrity of the conduct of people in the league,” former commissioner Paul Tagliabue told NFL Films years later.