The Herald Bulletin

March 17, 2014

George Bremer: Irsay's plight not about football

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

---- — Jim Irsay has a problem.

Most immediately, it's a legal problem. After being arrested late Sunday night under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, Irsay could face up to 12 years in prison if he is convicted on four felony charges of possession of a controlled substance.

More expansively, it appears to be an ongoing battle with addiction. And he's not alone.

In 2002, Irsay admitted to becoming addicted to prescription painkillers. He said at the time he believed he had beaten his demons through treatment, but the Indianapolis Star reported Monday some in the Colts organization recently have been urging the 54-year-old owner to return to rehabilitation.

There was a lot of talk Monday about the actions NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might take against Irsay under the league's personal conduct policy. In 2010, Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was fined $100,000 and suspended for 30 days (later cut to 21) after pleading guilty to driving while impaired.

But this story isn't about football. It's about a man's life.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 38,329 Americans died from an overdose of pain killers in 2010. That was the 11th straight year in which the number of deaths had risen, and those are the most recent statistics available.

Of those overdoses, 57 percent involved prescription medication and 75 percent were accidental.

The Colts can move on — especially in the short-term — without their owner. His three daughters — Carlie Irsay-Gordon, Casey Foyt and Kalen Irsay — all hold positions as vice chair/owner in the franchise's administration.

They've been around the team for much of their lives, and Foyt even has attended owners' meetings in recent years as she and her sisters are groomed as the next generation of ownership. Together with general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, they can keep their father's vision for the franchise intact.

Of far greater importance is making sure Irsay himself is still around to enjoy the fruits of that labor.

The owner has endeared himself to Colts fans by openly showing his passion for the franchise and with frequent interaction through a colorful Twitter account. By many accounts, he's a kind and compassionate man with a big heart and a generous spirit.

The full extent of his impact on the community and the state might never be known because he rarely seeks publicity for his common acts of charity.

But Jim Irsay has a problem.

His arrest Sunday night might finally serve as the alarm bell that startles him into seeking help.

For the sake of his family, and his many fans, I pray that is the case.