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Demons still haunting Colts owner, but he isn’t bad guy


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As evidenced by voluntarily entering a treatment facility, Jim Irsay apparently has a serious substance-abuse problem — one that could result in multiple felony charges.

But as most fair-minded people would agree, he is not Public Enemy No. 1.

Far from it.

By all outward appearances, Irsay is an addict on a downward spiral.

He may, or may not, have hit rock bottom with Sunday night’s arrest in Carmel.

For his sake, we can only hope that the only direction is up for the quirky owner of the Indianapolis Colts. He’s acknowledged past issues with alcohol and prescription pain medication, has been through rehab before but apparently has not yet exorcised his personal demons.

Now, he faces a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and four felony counts for possession of a controlled substance — startling allegations for the owner of an NFL football team.

Especially in a city that, fairly or unfairly, expects its sports figures to exhibit, if even for show, a modicum of Hoosier values.

Irsay’s arrest and the possibility of criminal charges run counter to such community expectations. It’s the sort of thing we might expect from a player but not a front office executive. And most certainly not from the owner.

But expectations notwithstanding, it’s the owner who is in trouble. Possibly big trouble. The sort of trouble that could (but probably won’t) result in prison time — the sobering price for an addiction that seems to guide his actions.

But again, he is not Public Enemy No. 1. As well-documented philanthropic endeavors reflect, he certainly doesn’t appear to be a bad person.

Moreover, Irsay has a refreshing albeit bizarre side that connects with fans. For better or for worse, he’s a social media enthusiast who occasionally — and famously — puts himself out there on Twitter, opining on topics ranging from pop culture to the Colts.

Stuffy, Irsay isn’t. Though not highly visible, he doesn’t shrink from the spotlight when situations demand his presence — such as the release of Peyton Manning or the drafting of Andrew Luck or shilling for Indy to host Super Bowls.

Irsay is there, in a public way, when he needs to be.

At some point, well after rehab — and probably after his legal issues have run their course — he likely will take the same approach with his personal situation. He almost assuredly will want to assure the community and fans in particular that his problems are being addressed.

None of this is to excuse his actions. Addiction in no way excuses getting behind the wheel while impaired — especially a billionaire who could hire a fleet of drivers anytime, anywhere, anyplace.

Moreover, he’s 54, not 24. There does reach a point, problem or no problem, when you’re old enough to know when it’s time to break old habits, and/or hand over the keys. It’s one thing when a player doesn’t know better. It’s quite another when the owner doesn’t.

In fact, were this a player and not the owner, the degree of sympathy filtering in would pale in comparison to what Irsay has received on media message boards and in social media circles. The NFL comes down hard on players who get off the straight and narrow. Many have received harsh suspensions and fines for less egregious missteps.

Avoiding embarrassment and not being cast in an unfavorable light are high priorities for the league. Few things do it as effectively as arrests. Players can and often do pay a steep price for them. Irsay likely will, too — by decree of the NFL and in the court of public opinion.

Although his arrest isn’t expected to impact the city’s bid for the 2018 Super Bowl, it is a stain on the franchise. Were it a player in the same situation, the stain could easily be removed by removing the player. The Colts have done it before.

But they can’t remove the owner.

Irsay is not a bad guy. He apparently has a bad problem. Fortunately, and above all, nothing bad happened to an innocent person while he was displaying bad behavior.

That’s the only sunny footnote in an otherwise dark drama.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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