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Legally, NFL Is In A Tight Spot With Jim Irsay Decision

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Jim Irsay is in hot water. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Jim Irsay is in hot water. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

Indianapolis Colt's owner Jim Irsay is usually causing Internet hysteria with his sometimes comical and always impulsive Twitter rants. But on Sunday night, it was not his sporadic social media prowess that made headlines. Irsay was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and four counts of possession of a controlled substance. Driving while intoxicated in the state of Indiana is a class A misdemeanor, but possession of a controlled substance is a class D felony. Aside from the cameras and media obsession with high-profile individuals charged with crimes, the legal process will play out in typical fashion and Irsay will likely plead to a lesser offense, agree to some kind of drug rehabilitation program and commit to hundreds of hours of community service.

Let's not kid ourselves here: Irsay has ample resources to employ the best legal talent. He isn't going to prison over this. And I think most outsiders would agree that avoiding jail time here is reasonable. From the bevy of reports swirling around the sports world, Irsay clearly has difficulties with sobriety. He's better off in a drug rehabilitation clinic where he can face his addiction head-on.

The bigger issue here is whether Roger Goodell will impose any kind of punishment on Irsay. Goodell's personal conduct policy has been lauded by some and heavily criticized by others. But one thing is clear: Goodell has the power and authority to punish without due process of the law. In other words, members of NFL, which includes players — and executives — can be fined, suspended or punished in some fashion if they engage in conduct that is deemed to be detrimental to the team, regardless of how the legal process pans out.

Although it's usually the players in the league that find themselves in brushes with the law, Irsay is an owner. How will Goodell act? Will he impose punishment? Will he hold Irsay to a higher standard? Or will he do nothing?

It's uncertain how Goodell will act in this situation, but the NFL Players Association is watching very closely. If Irsay pleads guilty to any kind of criminal charge and avoids punishment from Goodell, players who have been punished in the past without a criminal conviction will want some answers. The thing that makes this situation extra dicey is that Goodell essentially represents the interests of the owners in negotiations with the Players Association. In my opinion, there is an obvious conflict of interest here. In law, where conflicts arise between attorneys or judges, a disqualification is not only appropriate, but necessary. But this is the NFL. Formal legal rules do not apply. Violators of Goodell's personal conduct policy are often guilty without an innocence determination.

Goodell will likely tread very carefully here. A harsh punishment on Irsay will draw ire from other owners. The same owners who voted Goodell into the position of commissioner. A light punishment, or no punishment at all, will have the Players Association up in arms. Either way this pans out, Goodell's conduct policy will once again be in the spotlight.