Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay in Need of Support During His Recovery

By Bethany Robison
Jim Irsay
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When ESPN first launched its 30 for 30 documentary series a few years ago, one of their first films was The Band That Wouldn’t Die. It was about the Colts leaving Baltimore for Indianapolis, and one scene in particular stood out to me at the time: Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay talking about how alcoholism broke down his father, former owner Bob Irsay. In light of Jim Irsay’s substance related arrest, I went back to that clip again to hear him describe in his own words what had happened to his father.

Jim Irsay discussed a particular press conference on Jan. 20, 1984, in which his father Bob (a despised figure in Baltimore, and as I recall, a guy who wasn’t particularly popular in Indianapolis, either) addressed rumors that he was planning on moving the team to either Phoenix or Indianapolis. The video of that press conferences shows the elder Irsay struggling to open doors, slurring his words and being generally insulting (and disingenuous) to those who came to speak to him.

Jim Irsay said he couldn’t believe the way his father behaved during those fourteen minutes. He said, “Believe it or not, there was a big, soft heart inside of him that got taken away as time went on, from his daughter dying, from his son getting sick and dying, from the alcohol. It made him to where he couldn’t allow himself any sentimental aspects anymore. I tell my kids that when he was younger, he was something. Before time and alcoholism wore him down.”

When I first heard Jim Irsay say those words, I was impressed with how self-aware he sounded. It implied that he had learned something from his father’s struggles, had internalized the lesson and was putting what he’d learned into action. He posted on Twitter that he hadn’t had a drink in more than 15 years.

But unfortunately, a tendency toward addiction runs in families, and none of us are perfect. From what I’ve been reading this morning, Irsay has struggled with back pain and may have developed a dependency on pain killers as a result. It’s unfortunate but not uncommon. What’s done is done; what matters now is what happens next.

I’ve never met Jim Irsay, but from what I have seen of him, I believe his heart is in the right place. I believed that in the midst of Peyton Manning‘s release, and I still believe it now. If Bob Irsay’s addictions robbed him of his sentimentality, the same can hardly be said of Jim. His frequent show of emotion gives me hope that he’ll be open-hearted enough to accept help. Colts fans gladly rallied around coach Chuck Pagano during his cancer fight; this might be a harder sell, but that doesn’t make it less important. Addiction is a disease, and this is an opportunity for the organization to rally support for Mr. Irsay’s recovery to potentially raise awareness for others in the community who might need a little push toward getting help, too.

Some are expressing concerns that Mr. Irsay’s arrest might have an adverse effect on Indianapolis’s 2018 Super Bowl bid. I hope this is not the case. I hope that this marks a turning point, a chance for something great to happen in the community. So far the 2014 Colts have been so positive; they’ve become a free agent destination with a legitimate chance at winning championships. Let’s not let human nature derail something good when it’s barely even started. People make mistakes, people succumb to addiction and people face the consequences. And, hopefully, they recover and go on to show others that they can do the same.

Yes, Mr. Irsay’s arrest is embarrassing for him, his family, the organization and the city. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about fans in Indianapolis, it’s that we don’t like it when someone who represents us makes us look bad. We’d rather cheer for hard-working, lovable losers than championship caliber jerks. In this case, I would hope fans would be compassionate toward a man who has seen what substance abuse can do and supportive as he hopefully recovers.

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