It’s become fashionable over the last two days to accuse the NFL of applying a different standard to Colts owner Jim Irsay than the rules that are applied to players. The truth, however, is that the NFL hasn’t applied a double standard when it comes to Irsay.
The NFL has treated Irsay no differently than players facing first-offense accusations of driving while impaired. In those cases, discipline isn’t imposed until the legal process has concluded.
For Irsay, formal charges haven’t even been filed. The league, under the standard applicable to players, won’t take action until charges are filed and resolved.
The better question isn’t whether the NFL has applied a different standard to Irsay, but whether the NFL should. Misguided allegations of hypocrisy from the likes of Redskins safety Ryan Clark flow from the belief that owners should be held to an even higher standard than players. The notion that L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling may lose his franchise for privately expressing pigheaded — but hardly illegal — views on matters of race invites a compelling argument that creating a public safety hazard should at a minimum result in swift and decisive discipline of some sort for one of the 32 people who hold the paper on NFL franchises.
The eventual question is whether the NFL will impose apples-to-apples discipline on Irsay, if he pleads guilty to or is convicted of DUI or a similar offense. For players, the NFL collects a pair of game checks. For a billionaire owner, what should the sanction be? Two-seventeenths of the owner’s annual slice of shared revenues?
A truly fair punishment would result in a fine that would be regarded as staggering to the average fan — and that arguably would violate the league’s current bylaws. Way back in 1988, the NFL increased the maximum fine to $500,000, the amount imposed on Patriots coach Bill Belichick for the Spygate violation.
The most pressing question, then, may be whether the rules should change to permit greater sanctions to be imposed on owners. The idea that the owners are the ones who would vote on that change mirrors the dynamic of elected representatives voting on their own raises.