March 17, 2014

SHATZMAN | Irsay and Addiction

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Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was arrested early Monday morning and charged with a DUI, along with four felony counts of possession. Those close with the 54-year-old father of three called Irsay’s arrest “inevitable.” Columnist Bob Kravitz noted earlier Monday that Irsay has been in “desperate” need of help and that he has been “fighting for his life.”

More facts will certainly be revealed as the investigation continues, but it seems fair to conclude that Jim Irsay is one of the millions of people worldwide who struggle with addiction — an illness that, if not properly treated, can catalyze any life into a downward spiral. Earlier this year, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, one of the most revered actors of the century, was found dead with a syringe in his arm. His death served as a wake-up call to the harsh realities of addiction: it has no boundaries — anyone is vulnerable, even Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and even billionaire franchise owner Jim Irsay.

Addiction seems to be held in a different light compared to other illnesses. In some respects, it is different. Most cases of addiction begin when a person experiments with a drug and over time the drug becomes a part of the person’s life — something that the person cannot live without. Addiction is often the result of human action. Cancer, on the other hand, strikes at random and is generally not a result of human action. It, too, has no boundaries. But while addiction can be caused by a poor decision, it is key to remember that addiction is still a serious illness. When someone is fighting to survive, it is trivial whether the person’s actions originally sparked the problem.

Earlier today on ESPN, Herm Edwards noted that Irsay’s arrest is bad for the NFL as a “brand.” He said that when a notable NFL owner gets arrested, it damages the NFL’s reputation. Maybe Herm is right. But I highly doubt that people who looked into Irsay’s arrest immediately denigrated the NFL as a “brand.” If some people did, I can assure you that Jim Irsay’s arrest did not cause anyone to say, “Hey, I don’t think I want to watch the NFL ever again.” That would be ridiculous. And that is when failing to consider that Irsay was in need of help and appeared to be struggling with addiction — a legitimate illness. When a professional athlete or franchise executive is stricken with any illness or disease — whether it be mental illness or cancer — people do not worry about its affect on the NFL as a “brand.” Sure, any arrest is not going to make those indifferent to the NFL suddenly become fans of the league, but an arrest will not send the NFL into bankruptcy.

In the case of Jim Irsay, the NFL as a “brand” should be the least of the concerns. Irsay himself, rather, and his family and those who know him on a personal level, are the ones to empathize with. Let’s disregard the NFL’s reputation for a second. The National Football League has survived the OJ Simpson trial, Rae Carruth’s murder, Plaxico Burress’ fiascso and Aaron Herndandez’ alleged murder(s). The league will be just fine after Jim Irsay’s arrest — one that NFL fans hope will mark the end of his struggle with addiction, and the beginning of a fresh, drug-free life for the longtime Colts’ owner.