SNYDER: As Jim Irsay walks free, NFL’s discipline double standard on display

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OPINION/ANALYSIS:

It’s good to be the king.


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Or an NFL owner.

Your subjects toil long and hard to support your empire, under the threat of harsh discipline if they break the rules. Even the appearance of impropriety can bring ramifications. The presumption of innocence is applied at your whim and sparingly.

But what happens when you’re the king and you’re arrested for intoxicated driving and four felony counts of narcotics possession?

If you’re Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, nothing happens. As least not for two months and counting.

Since being pulled over on March 16, Irsay has conducted business as usual (aside from checking into an undisclosed rehab facility for an undisclosed stay, during which he might or might not have completed his treatment).

He took an indefinite leave of absence and skipped the owners’ meeting in Orlando a couple of weeks after his arrest. But there he was at in the Colts’ war room during the draft, heavily involved as always. There he was at the owners’ meeting in Atlanta this week, leading Indy’s bid for the 2018 Super Bowl. There he was in a media cluster, back in the middle of things after never leaving the loop.


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“I’ve been clued into everything that’s been going on the last few months,” Irsay told reporters. “It’s good to be at this meeting and really try and focus on the Super Bowl bid.”

He shouldn’t have been at the meeting or in the war room. He shouldn’t have been involved in any team functions or league business. Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t held Irsay to the same standard applied to players, even though the standard for owners is supposed to be higher.

It’s hard to believe a player could represent his team or the league after that traffic stop in March.

According to police, Irsay failed multiple sobriety tests and had $2,513 in his wallet, $12,000 in one of two “laundry” bags, $14,516 in a briefcase and bottles of prescription drugs in a briefcase and the two bags.

None of that suggests “recreational user.”

Even uglier is the death of a female acquaintance two weeks before his arrest. Kimberly Wundrum died of a suspected drug overdose in a $139,500 townhouse that Irsay allegedly bought for her. Police want to know more about their relationship and association with drugs.

The commish has hammered players for less, but he says it’s too early for a call on Irsay. “There are no formal charges at this point,” Goodell told reporters Tuesday. “We want to understand the facts before we take any steps as it relates to potential discipline.

“Obviously, any policies or any laws that are broken — whether you’re commissioner, owner, player or coach — are subject to discipline.”

Such restraint is remarkable because it’s been nonexistent for players.

The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games (later reduced to four) in 2010 after he was accused of sexual assault. Prosecutors eventually decided not to press charges but Goodell’s punishment stood.

In a letter to Big Ben, Goodell wrote: “You are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville (Ga.) that can be remotely described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”

Goodell wants the process to play out in Irsay’s case, but Michael Vick was ordered to stay away from training camp in 2007 while his dog-fighting case played out. In 2011, Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five games based on NCAA infractions, not legal or civil issues.

Cedric Benson was suspended that same season for three games (later reduced to one) … for a bar fight when he was an unemployed free agent!

Perhaps Goodell is slowing his trigger finger. The 49ers’ Aldon Smith and Ravens’ Ray Rice have had run-ins with the law since Irsay’s incident and neither player has been disciplined yet.

Or perhaps Goodell realizes how bad that would look while Irsay rolls along as if nothing happened.

Whatever the case, there’s certainly no rush to judgment if you write the checks, like the Browns’ Jimmy Haslam.

His gas station chain, Pilot Flying J, is accused of systematic fraud that cost customers $100 million or more. Last year, in a 158-page affidavit based on whistleblowers, taped conversations and confiscated computer files, the FBI claimed the CEO knew all about the scheme.

“Jimmy Haslam is a man of great integrity,” Goodell said last summer.

Yeah, it’s good to be the king.

Or an NFL owner.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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