Let's just get this out of the way to begin with: Colts owner Jim Irsay needs to be disciplined by the National Football League and Roger Goodell, and I am extremely confident that he will be disciplined. I fully expect such discipline to come before the 2014 starts. Irsay was charged last week with two misdemeanors and has a court date set for June 19. He was arrested March 16 for driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance.
Many people have taken issue with the fact that Irsay was only charged with two misdemeanors and no felonies, and this article from the Indianapolis Star does a good job at capturing that feeling. But while I'm no legal expert by any means, I never expected Irsay to be charged with a felony and don't think that's just because he's a rich, prominent figure. The charges are really no surprise.
Something else that isn't really a surprise is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn't disciplined Jim Irsay yet -though, if you listened to members of the NFL Players Association, you'd believe otherwise. Redskins safety Ryan Clark said last week that the lack of action by Goodell shows the "hypocrisy of the NFL." Said Clark:
"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."
The president of the NFLPA, Eric Winston, told the MMQB's Peter King earlier this week that the players are watching this situation very closely, adding that:
"Owners own for decades. Players, if we're lucky, might play for a decade. If protecting the shield is the most important thing, and owners are the ones most responsible for the league's future, the owners have to be held to a higher standard. So I don't understand how we can be talking about comparing the punishment of a player to what the league might do to an owner. Owners should be held to the highest of standards. And I can tell you, players are watching. A lot of players are watching. This has been on players' minds for quite a while."
Then, just today, NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith went after Goodell about the "credibility gap" that exists, saying:
"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."
Undoubtedly, it does seem as if Roger Goodell is giving Jim Irsay preferential treatment in delaying discipline, as many think that since Irsay has already been charged there should be nothing holding Goodell back anymore. But first consider the current attitude of the NFLPA towards Goodell and it's not hard to see why they're upset about this issue too. The Players Association was very upset about the NFL's suspension of Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis for four games for violating the league's prohibited substances policy, even though he said it was so that him and his wife could conceive, and he reportedly could prove that as well. Goodell refused to get involved, however, and the NFLPA was ticked off. Furthermore, the NFLPA was upset that Goodell didn't get involved with Louisiana's workers comp bill even though it wouldn't be good for players in New Orleans. Goodell didn't get involved, but Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates did. Both of those issues, however, have put distance between Goodell and the NFLPA and has added to bad feelings between the two sides. It makes complete sense, then, that the NFLPA would publicly blast the Commissioner over the Jim Irsay situation as well, as this can be an avenue of taking out their frustration with Goodell.
I say that just to suggest that, perhaps, there's more going on here than just the Jim Irsay case and, perhaps, the reason for the outrage lies with a combination of several issues and not just this one. Because really, Goodell is doing nothing different with this case than he's done in the past with players.
The USA Today's Tom Pelissero accurately pointed out two other cases in recent years involving players that took much longer for Goodell to act. Pelissero mentions the case of Packers DT Johnny Jolly and Bengals WR Jerome Simpson. Writes Pelissero:
"Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly was arrested in July 2008 for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine, a second-degree felony. He played two full seasons amidst repeated delays in the case before Goodell suspended him indefinitely in July 2010. Jolly pleaded guilty in April 2011 and served jail time before being reinstated and playing for the Packers in 2013.
"Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson was arrested in September 2011 after a package containing two pounds of marijuana was delivered to his home, leading to a felony trafficking charge. He played the rest of the season before pleading guilty in March 2012 and receiving a three-game NFL suspension he served the following season with the Minnesota Vikings."
In fact, Pelissero concludes that Roger Goodell "will act eventually - and probably a lot sooner than he did in the Jolly or Simpson cases." You see, the lack of action doesn't mean that it's anything different than past cases, only that this one is magnified in a way because it involves one of the league's owners - who happen to be Goodell's boss. If this case involved a player, my guess is that nobody would blink twice that there hasn't been discipline yet, instead preaching patience and the fact that the season is still more than two months away. Certainly, the NFLPA wouldn't be upset about it at all.
Discipline will be coming for Jim Irsay, there's no doubt about it. I expect some sort of fine and suspension will be in order, and I do think that Goodell will make a bit of an example out of Irsay. And if that is indeed the case, I absolutely agree that it's better to wait and see. The NFLPA might not like it and some fans might cry foul as well, but looking at a few other cases involving players in recent years there's not much validity to their complaints. The discipline is coming - and if for some reason it doesn't, then there will be plenty to complain and criticize about. But the fact that there is a lot of outcry that it hasn't happened yet is just a combination of other issues going on, the fact that this case involves an owner, and the fact that it's the NFL offseason, a time when there's not much else going on.