The 2014 NFL season gets under way in earnest today, and one of the most promising games is tonight's visit of the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos. The Colts are among the favourites to reach this season's Super Bowl, while the Broncos, last season's free-scoring runners-up, are led at quarterback by Peyton Manning, for so long the face of the Colts.
However, a key figure will be notable by their absence through suspension – not a player or a coach, but Jim Irsay, the Indianapolis owner. Irsay has been banned from all football activities, including posting on social media, for six games, and fined the League maximum $500,000, for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. Irsay, 55, pleaded guilty this week to driving while intoxicated in March. Police who stopped the billionaire's car also found three bags of cash and prescription drugs.
That put Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, in a quandary. He came into the job in 2006 determined to clean up the League's image especially as regards off-the-field crimes and misdemeanours. Every season brought its crop of players arrested for drunk driving, substance abuse, domestic violence and even firearms offences, not that it seemed to put many fans off a violent sport that – logically enough – attracts its share of violent men.
Goodell had to be seen to judge Irsay by standards at least as harsh as those applied to players, even though, as a team owner, Irsay is technically one of Goodell's 32 bosses. So a punishment far exceeding the standard NFL penalty of $50,000 for a first offence seemed a bold move.
Players have dismissed the punishment as a slap on the wrist, suggesting that a player might have received a season-long ban. Josh Brown, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver will sit out the 2014 season for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, although it was his second offence.
Goodell, it seems, cannot win. He also drew widespread criticism for handing down only a two-game suspension to Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back, for hitting his then fiancee, now his wife, in Atlantic City in February.
Goodell probably cannot wait for today's games to give fans and pundits something to talk about apart from bans and other controversies.Reuse content