From the moment he was tabbed to succeed Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it a priority to “protect the importance of the game.” This meant upholding the shield’s integrity and ensuring swift punishment to anyone — players, coaches, or league personnel — that disgraces it
Goodell faced such a scenario almost exactly one year after he took office — in Sept. 2007, when the New England Patriots were busted for the now-infamous SpyGate scandal. The still-green commish was faced with disciplining Bill Belichick, a future Hall of Fame head coach who had been caught videotaping opponents’ defensive signals.
No easy task, in other words.
To make a (very) long story short, Goodell fined Belichick $500,000, the Patriots $250,000, and docked the team its first-round selection in the 2008 NFL draft. It was thought to be the maximum sanction for such an infraction; Belichick’s fine was (and still is) the largest ever imposed on a coach in league history.
Despite what some critics would say, justice had been served. More importantly, Goodell sent a clear message: He’s not to be messed with.
Nearly seven years later, Goodell finds himself in another sticky situation, thanks to reckless Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Time to set a new example.
If you need a refresher, Irsay was arrested on March 16 on suspicion of intoxicated driving, with a blood test revealing he had “oxycodone and/or hydrocodone” in his system when a police officer pulled him over.
Irsay denied being drunk at the time of his arrest, but failed several field sobriety tests and was “so disoriented that officers had him sit on the hood of a patrol car to keep him from falling,” according to the police report. Police confiscated $29,000 in cash and bottles of prescription drugs that Irsay had in his vehicle.
The next day, in the midst of a media firestorm, the Colts announced Irsay “voluntary checked into a highly respected health care facility.”
The league released its own statement, saying, “The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy applies to all league personnel and holds all of us accountable. We are reviewing the matter and will take appropriate action in accordance with the policy.”
In early May, Irsay seemingly completed rehabilitation treatment, returning to his oft-used Twitter account to thank fans for their support. On May 23, he was officially charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail.
Irsay’s trial is set to begin on Aug. 28, just days before the 2014 regular season kicks off. By then, Goodell should have decided on the appropriate punishment.
And it must be severe.
Under his watch, Goodell — whose reputation among players isn’t exactly sterling — has suspended countless NFLers for similar or even lesser offenses.
As Washington Redskins safety Ryan Clark pointed out, former teammate Ben Roethlisberger was banned for four games in 2010 despite never being charged with a crime.
Clark believes Goodell is on the precipice of setting an unfair double standard.
“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,” Clark said last month on ESPN’s First Take, per CBSSports.com.
Like him or not, Clark is right. Goodell simply can’t look the other way after one of his “bosses” embarrassed his team, players, fans, and, perhaps most importantly, the aforementioned shield.
There should be no sweeping under the rug, damage control, or spin cycle taking place. Goodell came down hard on Belichick — and rightly so. The precedent is in place to do it again. If he wants to maintain any credibility with the players, he will do nothing less.