Irsay has to get clean, reach to others

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
10:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has a problem. That became official when he packed up some of his belongings and entered an out-of-state rehabilitation facility March 18 in an attempt to conquer his demons head-on.

Irsay's admittance perhaps answers questions about why his physique was frail, why his hands constantly shook and why he often lost his train of thought the few times I spoke to him last season.

[+] EnlargeJim Irsay
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterJim Irsay can make a positive difference with those in similar circumstances if he battles his demons successfully.
Now everybody wonders: Can Irsay, who discussed his substance abuse history in 2012, leave his addiction behind for good once he shakes hands, gives hugs and waves goodbye to those at the facility when he's cleared to leave?

It won't be easy, but it will be necessary in order for Irsay to continue to run the franchise and, more importantly, continue to live.

One of the first things he should do once he gets out of rehab is admit he has embarrassed the franchise, the same franchise that's one of the models in the NFL. The same one in which they talk about only wanting those who are proud of being a part of the horseshoe.

Irsay is one of the people who is supposed to lead by example, not join the likes of former Colts John Boyett and Joe Lefeged on police reports.

For the two Super Bowl appearances the Colts made in the past decade, the Hall of Fame numbers Peyton Manning put up and the bright future Andrew Luck promises for the organization, the spring of 2014 is one that won't be forgotten.

It'll continue to linger until Irsay's family members, those inside the organization and the blue and white faithful see that he's finally clean, and until the NFL figures out how it's going to punish him.

Irsay is the seventh Colts player or front-office official arrested since January 2010. That number is low when you compare it to the rest of the NFL landscape, but it's a high number from the standpoint that the organization had only 10 players arrested in the 11 years prior to 2010. The Colts also had two players -- receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders -- suspended for the first four and eight games, respectively, last season for not following the league's substance-abuse policies.

The Colts' organization is supporting its boss. That's what you would expect to be done for a genuinely nice man who also happens to be the one responsible for paying them. They simply want Irsay to clean up his act.

"It was tough seeing that," former Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "It's something he struggled with awhile before. I'd like to see him getting some help. He made an irresponsible decision, so I'm sure there will be some ramifications, and hopefully he can turn things around."

Irsay has the money (he's worth an estimated $1.6 billion) to make a difference not only for himself, but for others. As he has proven, substance addiction is not easy to overcome. He has battled pain pill addiction long before his latest arrest. Once clean -- hopefully sooner than later -- Irsay and his outgoing personality can become a public figure in helping those who have a daily struggle of drug and alcohol addiction. Since 2003, there have been more overdoses involving painkillers than heroin and cocaine combined, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will discipline Irsay, likely with some combination of fine and suspension. You can count on that. He's waiting "to understand the facts" before making a decision.

The last thing Goodell will do is let Irsay off with a light slap on the wrist. Anybody with any association in the NFL -- past, present and future -- will be paying attention to Goodell's actions because the rules apply to league and team personnel.

But what about Boyett?

He was released just days after he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting law enforcement in downtown Indianapolis in September.

What about the next time a Colts player gets arrested? Will Irsay make a snap decision and give general manager Ryan Grigson the green light to release the player? Or will Irsay show compassion after what he has gone through?

Irsay has every right to do what he wants with his players because it is his team and his money, but he likely won't be able to do it without having somewhat of a guilty conscious, depending on the infraction committed, without thinking about the spring of 2014.

The first step for Irsay is to get clean, then apologize for embarrassing his franchise and the city it plays in and reach out to help others who continue to fight this addiction.

Mike Wells

ESPN Indianapolis Colts reporter

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