Punishing the Colts by taking away draft picks for Irsay's mistakes would be off base

Joey Foley

ESPN's Jeff Chadiha compares apples to elephants.

ESPN senior writer Jeffri Chadiha recently wrote a little piece regarding potential penalties for Colts owner Jim Irsay following his arrest for driving while intoxicated back in March. The article from Chadiha, who works for the "let's make the news, rather than report it" Worldwide Leader, stated that if Roger Goodell does not take away draft picks for Mr. Irsay's legal situation, then Goodell is only furthering the perceived double standard between how he treats the owners versus the players.

To that, I say for shame.

Mr. Chadiha leads by making the broad assumption. My guess for this that it is primarily in response to the Irsay situation by the overly litigious NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith and other players. In their minds, had Irsay been an NFL player, Goodell would have already leveled a heavy punishment. That logic is off base.

Goodell has been anything but quick to justice in situations that involve a first time offender in the eyes of the law. Here are just a few examples:

  • Former Cowboys DT Josh Brent was charged, and eventually convicted of DUI Manslaughter in the death of former Colts player, Jerry Brown, but wasn't suspended by Goodell before eventually retiring from the NFL almost eight months after the incident.
  • Former NFL WR Donte Stallworth was charged with a DUI Manslaughter on April 1, 2009 for having a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to the DUI Manslaughter charge on June 16, 2009. Then on August 13, 2009, Roger Goodell suspends Stallworth for a year, almost two months after pleading guilty to the charges.
  • St. Louis Rams WR Kenny Britt was suspended for one game by Goodell for a July 2012 DUI arrest in August 2012. This was Kenny Britt's eighth, yes, I said eighth, run in with the law over a three-year span.

More recent examples include:

  • San Francisco 49ers OLB Aldon Smith was arrested for falsely reporting a bomb at an airport while allegedly being intoxicated, but Goodell has not suspended Smith, even with his laundry list of prior off-field incidents.
  • Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice in February 2014 was caught on video literally knocking out his now wife and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. However, Goodell has not yet suspended.

Needless to say, there are many, many more incidents regarding off-the-field player transgressions where Goodell chose to wait for the legal system to run its course before coming to judgment. Thus, all of the saber-rattling by Smith and NFLPA that Goodell treats owners differently than he treats the players is unfounded.

Don't get me wrong. If Goodell wanted to make a statement and set forth a punishment that would shake the bedrock of the NFL owners - causing them to think twice before making any questionable decision - then yes, taking away a draft pick is certainly the way to do it. However, contrary to Mr. Chadiha's opinion, there is no precedent for draft pick penalties for off the field transgressions. Not a single time in Goodell's reign as all powerful NFL Commissioner has a single draft pick been taken away for this sort of behavior.

While Mr. Chadiha is correct in stating there is precedent for taking away draft picks, he undermines his own argument by noting that the only times that situation arose were in response to the "Bountygate" and "Spygate" scandals of the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, respectively. Both of those situations were centered entirely around on-field activities that directly affected the outcomes of NFL games. It was a team issue and the team took the hit. Chadiha correctly points out that neither Saints owner Tom Benson or Patriots owner Robert Kraft were involved in either situation, which is an excellent point because it was the on-field integrity of the NFL that was put in question and that's why draft picks were penalized.

Irsay's situation is different because, like the players listed above, it was an off-the-field transgression and did not, in any way, shape or form affect the outcome of an actual NFL game. It saddens me to see Chadiha make such a broad statement, saying that Indiana suspending Irsay's license for a year "only intensified the matter[,]" as to the pressure put on Goodell to punish Irsay.

But, Chadiha once again undermines his own point by noting correctly that, in Indiana, if a person is pulled over under suspicion of a DUI or OWI and refuses a breathalyzer or similar test, then their license is automatically suspended for a year with only one exception that's not even relevant in this situation.

Anyone who knew or could have looked up that law would have recognized Irsay's license being suspended is an inevitable result of him refusing the tests. This doesn't show "evidence is mounting up against [Irsay]," as Chadiha contends. Irsay refusing to be tested was evidence we all knew from the start: He refused a test. As of right now, there is no "new" evidence unless you count knowing that Irsay had oxycodone or hydrocodone in his system for sure, but almost everyone knew that when the initial reports came out.

There is a punishment precedent for team executives who are involved in DUI arrests. Most notably the two Denver Broncos executives who were arrested for DUI's in 2013. Each executive was suspended by the team for a month and then returned to their duties without any fanfare. There was no call to arms by DeMaurice Smith. No players speaking up about disparity in discipline.

Most notably in this context, there were no articles from Jeffri Chadiha stating that Goodell needed to lay down the hammer for a team executive with a first offense. At least, none that Stampede Blue can find. Yet, here all these parties stand united, saying that Jim Irsay needs to be punished severely and Goodell needs to step up without allowing the legal process to play out. That is beyond me.

The important aspect of every legal case is determining what the facts really are. Goodell has consistently taken the same rationale, slow-moving approach in doling out player discipline, with the exception being repeat offenders.

Lastly, I take particular issue with Chadiha comparing the Irsay situation to Michael Vick, Adam "Pacman" Jones, and Ben Roethlisberger. All of these situations are very, very different and are multi-layered in their complexity, especially the Vick case which involved federal prosecutors, a dog fighting ring, and Vick lying to Goodell's face when confronted with the allegations. Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from dog fighting, and only then did Goodell suspend Vick for a year. Adam Jones had run in after run in with the law after entering the league. Ben Roethlisberger was accused by two separate women of alleged sexual assaults. Again, a disturbing pattern and multiple issues.

This is Irsay's first law enforcement issue. He hasn't been convicted. Luckily, unlike the Vick, Jones, and Roethlisberger situations, no living thing was hurt.

Admittedly, Chadiha's right in one respect. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave Goodell no favors with his quick and anvil like approach to the Donald Sterling situation. However, the only commonality between the two is that each involved owners. Sterling made incendiary remarks regarding racism, which have no place in today's society. Had Silver not reacted as swiftly as he did, there would have been a full on boycott by several NBA teams. NBA players refusing to play during the playoffs would have been an unmitigated disaster for the NBA. Silver had no choice in his unprecedented situation. Goodell, however, has precedent regarding DUI arrests. Irsay was charged with a misdemeanor DUI offense and thankfully, no one was injured as a result of Irsay's poor decision making. Goodell is taking the same rationalized approach he has with every legal situation for first time offenders, let the legal system play out.

Lost in all the whining by DeMaurice Smith and several players is the realization of what could happen to the players if Goodell does decide to pass judgment on Jim Irsay without gathering all the facts. It would behoove Smith not to push Irsay down the slippery slope of setting a new, controversial precedent that could have a significantly harmful affect on his constituents.

All in all, if Goodell wants to make a statement, then taking away draft picks is absolutely the way to go, but it would mark a significant shift in precedent for the NFL. A shift I doubt the players would be happy with long term.

Does Jim Irsay deserve to be punished? Abso-freaking-lutely!

He put lives, including his own, in danger by getting behind the wheel that night while being under the influence. However, taking away draft picks for off-field transgressions like Irsay's has no current or past precedent. To say it does is simply wrong. Should Irsay be fined more than the reported one million dollars? Yes. Should he be suspended from participating in team activities for more than the Denver executives? Probably.

Should the team lose draft picks because of Irsay? No, absolutely not.

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