The NFL suspended Jim Irsay for the first six games of the season and fined him $500,000 for violating its personal conduct policy, coming down hard on the Indianapolis Colts owner Tuesday just hours after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from an embarrassing March traffic stop.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Irsay is barred from team facilities, practices and games and cannot represent the Colts at NFL meetings or events. The fine is the maximum allowed under league rules.
"I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players," Goodell told Irsay in a letter released by the NFL. "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 55-year-old Irsay pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated and acknowledged during his appearance before a Hamilton County judge that he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone when he was arrested March 16 near his home in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.
Irsay did not comment outside the courtroom, but he apologized to Colts fans in a long prepared statement:
"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. Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community. 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.
"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. I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community. Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season."
Irsay's case was closely watched around the NFL — not least among players — because there are few examples of the league punishing an owner like Irsay. Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $100,000 in 2010 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following his guilty plea to driving while impaired. A player with a first-offense misdemeanor DUI would not be suspended and would be fined no more than $50,000 under terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
Police said an officer spotted Irsay driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal. Officers said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed field sobriety tests. Various prescription drugs were found in his vehicle, along with more than $29,000 in cash.
Irsay acknowledged in 2002 that he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem.
Irsay will be on probation for a year and is prohibited from drinking or possessing alcohol during that time. He must submit to drug testing during his probation and successfully complete a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Less than 48 hours after his arrest, the Colts said Irsay had entered a treatment facility.
Irsay's driver's license also was suspended for one year by Judge J. Richard Campbell, who asked Irsay about his history of prescription drug troubles.
"Yes, I've had it in the past … when I was dealing with the effects after having surgery," Irsay answered.
Andre Miksha, the Hamilton County chief deputy prosecutor, said Irsay's case wasn't handled differently than the roughly 1,100 other intoxicated driving cases the office handles each year. He said the "vast majority" of such cases end in plea agreements.
He also said the terms of Irsay's plea agreement are typical for a person who faced first-time driving while intoxicated charges in the county just north of Indianapolis.
Irsay had resumed his duties with the Colts at the NFL draft in May and even made an unsuccessful personal pitch to his fellow owners on behalf of Indianapolis' bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl.
Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father's second wife. Forbes magazine has estimated Irsay's net worth at $1.6 billion.
He has helped build the Colts into a top NFL team over the past decade behind quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver, and was a key player in the drive to bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis two years ago. He is working with some success to rebuild the team behind young quarterback Andrew Luck while coping with a divorce that follows a decade-long separation from his wife of 33 years.
Irsay told the judge he is still under the care of a doctor and an orthopedic specialist who prescribe medications for him. Under terms of his probation, Irsay must provide officials with all current medication prescriptions. The NFL said Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling and testing as determined by doctors.
Irsay, who is active on social media, is also forbidden from discussing the Colts or NFL on his Twitter account.