Most prevalent question from the NFL public over the past four months: What’s taking Roger Goodell so long to bring the hammer down on Jimmy Irsay and Ray Rice? Actually, the question is usually phrased something like this: What the #%^*+ is Goodell doing, punishing guys for marijuana and letting that $%#@ Irsay skate free?
I believe sooner, rather than later, Irsay will be suspended and heavily fined by Goodell for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. Under Goodell, the NFL has almost always waited until the legal process played out on a first-offense with a player or other league or team employee. This is Irsay’s first legal offense. But I don’t think Goodell is going to wait much longer, and I don’t believe Goodell will let Irsay have his day in court before he sanctions the Colts owner.
The reason is that there’s a lot we know already, including:
- Irsay was arrested for driving erratically on March 16.
- Irsay refused to undergo a field sobriety test. He refused to have his blood drawn to check his blood-alcohol content. Indiana authorities had to obtain a search warrant and forcibly draw blood from him on the night of his arrest.
- Irsay entered a substance-abuse rehab program immediately after the incident.
- Irsay was found with numerous bottles of prescription drugs in his car, and the drugs were not prescribed to him.
- Irsay was found with $29,000 in cash when arrested.
- Goodell has said club officials and owners “must be held to a higher standard” of behavior than players.
Irsay now has been formally charged by the Hamilton County (Ind.) prosecutor’s office with two misdemeanors: operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in the body. The substance, prosecutors allege, was “oxycodone and/or hydrocodone”—both strong and addictive painkillers.
Goodell could choose to wait until the case is adjudicated; that has been his M.O. But there’s enough that’s solid now for him to make his call, and there’s the specter of letting an owner own while a damning case drags through the legal system, if it does drag.
And there’s one thing the commissioner must do whenever he does come down on Irsay: He has to include random testing, the same way the league random-tests players who run afoul of the drug program. Early this month, when I was in Atlanta covering the Falcons’ draft, I ran into a retired player who launched into a screed on Irsay and how the NFL hadn’t disciplined him yet. “When that discipline comes, he ought to be tested daily,’’ the player railed. “If they can test a player 10 times a month, an owner should be tested more.”
On Sunday, I called the new president of the NFL Players Association, Eric Winston, and asked him about the Irsay case—and about random testing being a part of whatever sanction Goodell hands down.
“Owners own for decades,” Winston said. “Players, if we’re lucky, might play for a decade. If protecting the shield is the most important thing, and owners are the ones most responsible for the league’s future, the owners have to be held to a higher standard. So I don’t understand how we can be talking about comparing the punishment of a player to what the league might do to an owner. Owners should be held to the highest of standards. And I can tell you, players are watching. A lot of players are watching. This has been on players’ minds for quite a while.”
Goodell has to be considering a large fine and removing Irsay from any involvement with the Colts for months. But any penalty that doesn’t included future random testing will be dangerous and wrong-headed. Does Goodell really want to risk the specter of an impaired Irsay staggering in after a three-game losing streak and firing his coach and general manager?
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Now for Rice.
So now Ravens running back Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Palmer, have appeared in front of the media and stated their cases about the February incident in which Palmer, at the time Rice’s fiancée, was dragged unconscious out of an Atlantic City elevator. Other than Rice’s appearing repentant about the incident—and what else would he be?—I thought the press conference (with no questions) was bad for both of them, and for the Ravens.
There is a growing picture emerging of what happened that night. As Chris Mortensen has reported, sources say Rice and Palmer both were physically aggressive in the elevator. Who hit whom first? What does it matter? Palmer was the one who was knocked out and had to be dragged into a hallway. And there is no excuse for hitting a woman. None. Never. If she hit Rice 10 times, he has to hit her zero times. I don’t want to hear, “She hit him first.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Ten wrongs don’t make a right, especially when it comes to physical abuse on a woman … especially physical abuse on a woman.
Rice apologized to his owners, his coach, his teammates, his sponsors (his sponsors!), his fans … and not to his wife, sitting next to him at the press conference.
How can that be?
Things got worse. His wife then said: “I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.”
I’m sure she does, and I’m sure both of them wish they could replay that evening. But for Rice not to apologize publicly to his wife, and for his wife to emotionally apologize for the incident … It left as bad a taste as possible after what should have been a cleansing event. This was a dumb event, not a cleansing one.
What should have happened is, Rice should have said, regardless of who hit whom first, and who was responsible for tempers escalating: “I apologize to my wife for hurting her physically and emotionally that night, and I apologize to my team and those who have supported me so fervently since I’ve been in Baltimore. There is no one in this incident to blame but me. No man should ever raise a hand to a woman, regardless of the circumstances or what might have led to that moment. I am a better man than that, and I will work hard from this moment forward to try to earn back the trust that I have lost from everyone I know, and from every follower of the Baltimore Ravens. I am deeply sorry. Now I’ll answer any questions you might have.”
Opportunity wasted. Rice likely faces a short (maybe two-game) suspension from the commissioner for being a first-time offender under the personal-conduct policy. He’s got a strong résumé and is greatly admired for his work in the community. He shouldn’t be thrown out with the trash. But he’s got to realize that the performance the other day was tone-deaf.
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Now we see the future of Super Bowls. Unemotionally.
When a fragile and unhealthy 87-year-old Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints, appealed for New Orleans’ 11th Super Bowl last week in Atlanta, he used the city’s 300th birthday in 2018—the year of the Super Bowl three cities were bidding for—as a big selling point. That, plus a gorgeous, new four-football-field facility where proper coaching and training techniques would be taught to youth coaches, and where down-on-their-luck retirees could go for career and life help.
All owners get five minutes to cap their cities’ presentations. Benson capped New Orleans’ bid. Jimmy Irsay capped Indianapolis’. And Mark Wilf, owner/president of the Vikings and brother of principal owner Zygi Wilf, put a bow on the Minneapolis bid by saying, simply: “We need this now. The Super Bowl in 2018 will help us sell our stadium to our community far more than if we got the game two or three years later.”
On the fourth ballot, requiring a simple majority, Minnesota won. The Saints thought they had 15 votes, so theoretically the vote could have been 17-15, Minnesota; the owners aren’t told what the vote was. But whatever it was, the upshot was easy. Sentimentality was out. Benson likely was giving his last Super Bowl hard-sell, and it’s not every year your city has its 300th birthday. The stadium was in. Minnesota’s public-private partnership, and the arduous road the Wilfs and state legislature traveled to do the $1 billion stadium deal, carried the day.
“From talking to the owners,” Roger Goodell said at the Atlanta meeting, “the determining factor was the stadium in Minneapolis, and the effort they made in bringing that stadium to completion.”
Or, as one source in the room told me: “The tricentennial was huge for New Orleans, obviously. But it didn’t do anything for the rest of the owners, honestly.”
“It was so important,” Mark Wilf said Saturday, “because the competition for Super Bowls is not going to get less intense. New stadiums are getting built all the time. You never know after 2018 when our chance would come.”
It certainly would have come soon, because stadiums with domes in northern cities always get one game. But with the smooth and influential Arthur Blank getting spades in the ground in Atlanta last week for his new stadium—set to open in 2017—and Atlanta not having a Super Bowl since 2000, and with southern venues like Tampa Bay (last Super Bowl: 2009) and South Florida (2010) trying to break droughts that will be a decade long by the time the game comes around, it was no lock Minnesota would have gotten the 2019 Super Bowl.
What I find interesting in studying Super Bowl sites this century is that no stadium has been dominant. Five sites have gotten two games (Tampa, New Orleans, Miami, Arizona and Houston) of the 19 games that have been played or awarded since 2000. Look at the five games beginning with New Jersey in 2014, and you see the stadium commonality:
2014—MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Opened in 2010.
2015—University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. Opened in 2006.
2016—Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. Scheduled to open in 2014.
2017—NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant), Houston. Opened in 2002.
2018—Vikings Stadium, Minneapolis. Scheduled to open in 2016.
Average stadium opening date for those five venues: 2009. Thus, the smart money would be on Atlanta in 2019.
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A classy $100k.
There are two ways to look at what the Seattle Seahawks did when they waived their sixth-round pick, Marshall tackle Garrett Scott, on Friday. You can say they blew it with their pre-draft investigative work on him. Or you can say it correctly—no one knew about the rare heart defect Scott had, and it never affected him in his college career, and, once the team found out, the Seahawks did a noble thing.
Seattle doctors found the heretofore undiscovered heart defect in Scott—one that hadn’t shown up at Marshall or in the NFL’s pre-draft screenings—once he came to Seattle last week. Instead of releasing Scott because he’s not going to be able to perform this season, and maybe ever again, Seattle GM John Schneider first signed Scott to a four-year contract, with a $100,000 signing bonus.
“This enables him to go and see different experts,” Schneider said Saturday, “and allows us to either assist in getting him back on the playing field in 2015, or helping him transition to his post-football career. We’re just blessed that our docs dug further into the player and hopefully helped save a life.”