Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was arrested on March 16 of this year when he was pulled over and an officer found $29,029 in cash in a briefcase, along with numerous bottles of prescription drugs. Many questions have been raised about how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will handle this. Since owners fall under the league’s personal conduct policy, Irsay could very well be suspended.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith has also had problems with the law. In September of 2013, he was arrested for suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession, he was charged with three felony weapons charges for a party he threw at his house in June of 2012, and he was also arrested for suspicion of drunken driving in January of 2012.
So what does one have to with the other? Well, Goodell is paid by the owners, which makes them collectively his boss. Think of them as the board of directors of a major company, while Goodell is the CEO. One person on the board of directors can’t do anything directly to the CEO, but together they have full power of him.
So ask yourself this: if you were in charge of punishing one of the board of directors of the company you work for, would you be more strict or lenient? Now imagine you had to punish a subordinate first for doing generally the same thing. That’s where it gets tricky.
Smith will be the precedent for Irsay. Goodell knows this. While Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s incident was completely different from Smith’s or Irsay’s, some people think that Rice’s punishment was also a precedent. I don’t think it is because the crimes committed were so different, but Smith’s and Irsay’s are much more similar. If Goodell suspends Smith for eight games, wouldn’t he have to suspend Irsay for at least six?
If he doesn’t, the players will be outraged. Goodell lost favor with a majority of the players a long time ago for the way he has tried to control the violence of the game, but this would cause a different kind of outrage among the players. A lot of people would see it as a black vs. white case and the working middle class (at least relative to the NFL world) vs. the upper class. A lot of players would see it this way. They would take it as Goodell looking out for one of his own.
Goodell is a smart man and I’m sure he realizes this. But again, Irsay is essentially one of his bosses. He has a very unique problem that needs to be handled with an incredible amount of tact. If he comes down hard on Smith and easy on Irsay, people will say he’s taking it easy on an owner. If he comes down hard on both, he runs the risk of not having one of his bosses on his side anymore.
If he goes easy on both, people will say he set a precedent with Smith so he could let Irsay off. The only scenario left is if he goes easy on Smith and comes down hard on Irsay. He would still run the risk of losing Irsay in his corner.
As you can see, there are a lot of different things Goodell must think about before making his decision. He will surely receive a lot of backlash no matter what he decides, as it comes with the job. It will certainly be interesting to see moving forward, though.