This past week, Colts’ owner Jim Irsay was charged two misdemeanor counts of impaired driving due to his arrest this past March. The question now remains, “What will his punishment be?” It’s a delicate situation because the NFL Players Association and its players are watching intently to see what punishment NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, will levy on Irsay. The players believe in fair treatment, and if they are being severely punished for off the field altercations with the law, then the belief is that Irsay should be held to an even higher standard and even stricter punishment as one of the league’s caretakers, i.e. an owner.
Suspending an owner would be an unprecedented move from Roger Goodell, so there is really no prior rubric to follow. The only NFL front office personnel to have been suspended by Goodell is Tom Lewand, Detroit Lions President, who in July of 2010 plead guilty to a DWI charge. That same month, the commissioner suspended him 30 days for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. It’s much more of an awkward situation when it comes to Irsay; however, as Roger Goodell essentially works for the owners. It would be roughly the equivalent of an employee punishing his boss.
Still, as a steward of the game, it’s Goodell’s job to protect the NFL’s shield first and foremost, as well as the corresponding interests of both the owners and players alike. He has to look at this objectively and do what’s ultimately best for the league going forward. It seems highly likely that Irsay will be suspended and maybe even fined, but the length of that suspension and the amount of that fine is anyone’s guess right now. It appears that Goodell is content to gather all of the facts before making a rash decision on a punishment.
It begs the question, what will Jim Irsay’s legacy ultimately be as far as the Colts’ owner? That book is still unwritten, but to me, I think he’s still a great owner even if he’s not the perfect role model. He’s genuinely passionate about the Indianapolis Colts, and he truly cares about his players, coaches, personnel, and even the fans that are all a part of it.
He has his demons and addictions, yes, but he sincerely cares about the people he both associates and surrounds himself with, specifically his family and friends. Greatness isn’t whether you can acquire or make a vast fortune, as money only brings security and stability. Greatness, in reality, is whether you can make the lives of those around you better and happier. Greatness is not necessarily whether you lead, but if people choose to follow. Can you inspire? Can you make things better than they were before you previously arrived? Can you leave a footprint of a lasting positive legacy among the many lives of those you touched?
Through his community involvement and the way he treats those both within and immediately outside the Colts’ organization, I’d check quite a few of those boxes when it comes to Jim Irsay’s ownership. He had a huge hand in keeping the Colts in Indianapolis, when rumors of leaving to Los Angeles had previously swirled. He helped the Colts achieve their ultimate goal, winning a Super Bowl in 2006 (XLI). Lastly, he was one of the driving forces in the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, one of the premier sporting venues in the country, that has hosted events from Super Bowl XLVI to Men’s Final Fours in addition to being the long-term home of the Colts.
I do not know Jim Irsay personally, and all of this is written from an outside, yet well-informed perspective. My only encounter with him was when I once held a door for him at an Indianapolis Museum, Super Bowl XLVI event as an intern. He said, “Hello and thank you,” which although brief (and rightfully so, given the circumstances), was indeed a courteous gesture to me.
I’m not saying he’s the perfect person, but as far as an owner, I think he brings far more good than bad to the table. Yes, he needs to get himself healthy and right again. I’m not condoning some of his actions by any means. He’ll have to take responsibility for his actions and accept the consequences that are handed down by the commissioner, no question. It was reckless. He’s incredibly fortunate he didn’t physically hurt anyone, much less himself.
However, as far as an owner is concerned, he does everything else you could reasonably ask for. What I mean, is that he allows the football operations personnel like Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson to run the team. Like a certain Cowboys’ owner, he doesn’t meddle. He doesn’t interfere. He simply writes the checks and pays the bills. He has a say if he so chooses in the contracts and deals, but it appears he lets the “football guys” ultimately make the “football decisions”. Although he likes to tweet about such football moves, demonstrating his personal interest, he lets those guys do their jobs without trying to put his thumb print on seemingly anything and everything. Similarly, he’s always been willing to put his money where his mouth is, signing big name free agents and coaches to lucrative deals if it has meant actually improving the team.
He wants to win too. He doesn’t look at the Colts as just some soulless corporation like “Colts ConglomerCo Inc.” that is used purely to increase his enormous bank account and generate revenue like other cheapskate owners occasionally do in professional sports. He invests into the team, into the players, both on and off the field. He’s eccentric. By his tweets, you see that he genuinely cares about the team and winning football games. When the team loses, he loses and suffers the same pain and sadness as others closely tied with the team. Conversely, when they win, he has pure joy and excitement in his eyes. I’d rather have an owner that actually cares about his team, then one that doesn’t care at all, all personal flaws considered.
Fortunately, for Irsay, he still has time to recover, build, and maybe even renew his ownership legacy, as it assuredly won’t end on these two legal transgressions. He’ll be able to work toward leaving a truly positive impact that people will ultimately remember him for. He has a chance to use his vast influence for the greater good of the Indianapolis community and state of Indiana as a whole, that goes beyond simply winning football games.
I am fairly certain he wants another Super Bowl ring, so his football legacy may be just as tied to the future career of QB Andrew Luck, as it was the storied past and controversial dismissal of former Colt and future hall of famer, QB Peyton Manning.
Although I like him purely as an owner, it’s not really my place nor anyone else’s to pass the ultimate judgment on Jim Irsay. Yes, Roger Goodell will place an NFL mandated punishment according to the confines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement upon him. However, Jim Irsay is ultimately the one who looks in the mirror everyday. He’s the one who ultimately gets to choose and live toward what he wants to be remembered for. To me, that can go so much further than just football.