SBD/September 3, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Colts Owner Irsay Suspended Six Games, Fined $500,000, But Are Penalties Stiff Enough?

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Irsay's driver's license was revoked for one year and 40 days
The NFL yesterday suspended Colts Owner Jim Irsay for six games and "fined him $500,000" after he pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of impaired driving stemming from his March arrest, according to a front-page piece by Mark Alesia of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. The suspension begins at 5:00pm ET today and "prevents Irsay from attending practices or games." Irsay, an "avid user of Twitter, is also prohibited from using social media and doing interviews." The fine was the "maximum under current NFL rules and tied for fourth-largest in league history." Late yesterday morning, a Hamilton County (Ind.) judge "accepted Irsay's guilty plea to one count of Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated." Irsay's sentence includes "one year of probation, during which he may not consume or possess alcohol, and his driver's license was revoked for one year and 40 days." Irsay also will be "subject to random drug testing as part of his probation and the results will be shared with the NFL." Meanwhile, Alesia notes the NFL announced its punishment in a statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell said the league's owners, management and coaches "must be held to a higher standard than players." He added that the Colts "did not have to forfeit any draft choices because Irsay's misconduct did not give his team a competitive advantage." It is the "first time in Goodell's eight years as commissioner he has disciplined an owner for impaired driving" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 9/3). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes Irsay’s suspension is "not the harshest one imposed against an NFL owner." Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. for the '99 season and fined him $1M after he "pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony arising from a gambling fraud case in Louisiana." Goodell had the "discretion to impose a shorter suspension or a smaller fine" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/3).

STIFF PUNISHMENT APPROPRIATE: USA TODAY'S Nancy Armour writes if there were "any last doubts about how serious" Goodell is when it "comes to protecting the image of the NFL, the commissioner dispelled them ... with his stiff punishment." When taken with Goodell's "other disciplinary measures just within the last week, it sends a clear message that he will not play favorites." Armour: "Do something to make the NFL look bad and, regardless of who you are, Goodell will make you pay" (USA TODAY, 9/3). FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez wrote under the header, "This Time Around, Goodell's Punishment Fits The Crime." Critics will "say that Goodell made a mistake" and that he "went soft on one of the 32 owners who constitute his bosses." But he can "rest easy on his Irsay judgment." Goodell again "followed through on his promise that an NFL owner or key front-office member would be treated far more severely than a player who had committed the same offense" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/2). ESPN's J.A. Adande said of Goodell, "It shows that he takes these offenses by Irsay very seriously. It shows he's willing to come down as hard on an owner as he has ... on the players. The players should be satisfied that justice was meted out to the owner" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/2). Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman tweeted, "When you dig deep, the Irsay punishment is actually spot on. NFL did hold him to higher standard. Player would have gotten no suspension" (TWITTER.com, 9/2). The Orange County Register’s Dan Woike: “It's really, really hard to punish billionaires. People want to see a fine that really hits them in the pocketbook. What are you going to fine him, $10 million?" ("Rome," CBS Sports Network, 9/2).

HITTING WHERE IT HURTS: ESPN.com's Mike Wells wrote the suspension "will sting Irsay more than it stings his employees." People who have been around Irsay know "his life is football." Irsay is a "very hands-on owner" and is a "regular at the team’s facility during the week." He also "constantly talks" to GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano and is "always inside the locker room after games" (ESPN.com, 9/2). ESPN's Adande: "People say, 'Well, how is this a punishment? Okay, he can't go to the games.' But this is what owners live for. He can't have an influence on league meetings. Also, the ban on Twitter -- this is a guy who likes to tweet a lot." Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said the Colts "won’t miss him for that six weeks." Paige: "What does he do and have to do with the team on the field anyway?" But columnist Kevin Blackistone said, "That's the only thing that they could do, other than kick him out of the league. This a good sign if you're a player -- to look at this penalty" ("Around The Horn," ESPN2, 9/2).

STILL NOT ENOUGH: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell wrote the penalty "strikes me as a bit light." Bell: "You would have thought Irsay would have at least been banned for a half-season." But as it "turns out, Irsay gets a relative slap on the wrist." Still, Goodell "deserves credit for moving swiftly, announcing the decision just hours after Irsay's plea deal was finalized" (USATODAY.com, 9/2). ESPN's Linda Cohn: "The NFL could have made a statement against DUI by suspending Colts owner Jim Irsay for 1 year not just six games" (TWITTER.com, 9/2).

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
ESPN’s Jim Trotter reported one NFL team president "thought the penalties were fair," but players "don't believe it was fair." Trotter: "They believe that when you say, ‘There’s a higher standard for owners,’ that means a harsher punishment. So from their standpoint, they don't believe that this meets that criteria." He added, "They also said, ‘We’re not surprised. We never expected a man who was paid $42 million by the owners last year to be able to discipline one of his bosses’" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/3). CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora wrote on Twitter: "The Irsay penalty is a strong one in my estimation. A 1st time DUI offense for a player would be no games and a $50K fine. ... The $500K the NFL fined Irsay is the maximum allowed. Could it have been more games? Sure. But Goodell works for the owners, remember." The San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami wrote, "Six games and $500,000 is not enough punishment for Jim Irsay. But he is Goodell's boss. Always remember that" (TWITTER.com, 9/2).
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