- NFL suspends Irsay for six games, fines him $500,000
- The Colts owner was arrested March 16, he failed field sobriety tests, police say
- NFL commissioner recently increased penalties for some offenses
- Irsay will pay court costs, has one year probation
In a time when the NFL has come under scrutiny about how it punishes its players, players and fans were monitoring Tuesday how Commissioner Roger Goodell might punish one of his own bosses: an NFL team owner.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay pleaded guilty Tuesday to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, according to the NFL. Irsay also received one year probation and will continue treatment. He will also have to pay $368.50 in court costs.
Shortly thereafter, the NFL announced it was suspending Irsay for the Colts' first six regular-season games. He was also fined $500,000 for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
"I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players," Goodell said in a letter to Irsay. "We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard."
The suspension takes effect at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. Irsay will not be allowed at the Colts' facility, cannot attend practices or games and cannot represent the team at league meetings or league committee meetings or at any other team or league event. He is also barred from media interviews and can't engage in social media regarding matters about the NFL or the Colts.
The $500,000 fine is the maximum allowed under league rules.
"I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere," Irsay said in a statement.
The Colts are at the Denver Broncos' on Sunday evening. Irsay will be eligible to return after the Colts' game against the Houston Texans on October 9.
Irsay did not comment when he left the Hamilton County courthouse on Tuesday. He said when arriving at the courthouse that he appreciated the love and support he's gotten.
Pills found in Irsay's car
On March 16, Irsay was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. At the time of the arrest, police said they found prescription drugs in pill bottles. Police said the drugs were not associated with any prescription bottles in the vehicle.
According to courtroom evidence, Irsay had the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone in his system when he was arrested.
The probable cause affidavit indicates that the Colts owner's speech was "slow and slurred," his eyes were "red and glassy" and his balance was "very unsteady." He failed a number of field sobriety tests, had trouble reciting the alphabet and told an officer "that he was having a hard time finding his house."
The following day, the Colts said that Irsay voluntarily reported to a rehabilitation facility. Irsay has previously said he has struggled with addiction.
"In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health," Irsay said Tuesday after pleading guilty. "I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country's terrible and deadly problem of addiction. It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases—one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth."
Irsay is the first National Football League owner to have faced criminal charges since Eddie DeBartolo of the San Francisco 49ers was indicted on federal racketeering charges in 1997.
There have been varied punishments doled out in recent NFL discipline rulings against players. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended for the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has been suspended for nine games for violating the substance abuse and personal conduct policy. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games after his arrest for domestic violence against his then-fiancée, who is now his wife, Janay. Currently pending is the case against 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was arrested Sunday on felony domestic violence charges.
Goodell announced last week that the league was instituting a six-game unpaid ban for personnel who violate the league's policy on domestic violence.
A second domestic violence incident would be punished by a lifetime ban from the league, Goodell said in a letter and memo to the owners of the league's 32 teams.
The NFL had endured relentless criticism after only suspending Rice for two games, several months after video showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator.
Without referring to Rice by name, Goodell acknowledged in his letter that he made the wrong decision in that case.
"I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will," he wrote.