I recently read a piece of commentary by ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha which pertained to the NFL and how it should punish Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for his looming drug-related issues. This isn’t specifically Cleveland-related just yet, but it’s no small stretch to think that it could be someday. I don’t think Jimmy Haslam is going to get pulled over with bottles of pills and enough cash to buy a really nice Hyundai, but let’s just say there might come a time when the league could be put in a position of discipline over the Browns owner due to his off-field issues.
But back to Chadiha’s commentary. I found it notable because it indicated that Irsay’s penalty should be draft picks. I found that surprising and after thinking about it for a bit, I couldn’t disagree with him more.
Let’s talk about the timing. I find it a little strange that so many people are so very impatient with the NFL as they consider punishment for Irsay. At no point has it occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a punishment. It’s a matter of what and when, not if. Irsay’s already been handed down his automatic driver’s license suspension for refusing a blood test, but the rest of the legal matter isn’t resolved yet. According to Chadiha, Irsay has another hearing on June 19.
After the timing is resolved, what should the punishment actually be? That’s a really tough question. Obviously a fine has to be a part of it, but it isn’t like any fine that Roger Goodell hands out to a guy who owns an NFL team — one that easily has to be worth more than a billion dollars — is going to be meaningful. Same thing with a suspension. While he’s out, his daughter and a whole host of executives run the team.
With that in mind, I understand where Chadiha is going with draft picks. If you want a punishment to be meaningful, you’ve got to make it hurt, right? The real question, is who are you hurting? Yes, you’re hurting Irsay and his franchise value, but what of the poor fans that want nothing more than to root for a football team? Yes, they’ve been spoiled by Peyton Manning and then landing Andrew Luck, but that has nothing to do with this. We in Cleveland know all too well what it’s like to have a relationship with team ownership. We don’t get to choose them, but we’re left to try to manage to deal with these stewards of our childhood history as best as we possibly can, regardless.
When the NFL hit the Saints and Patriots with draft pick penalties for the “bounty” program and the spying incidences, respectively, that made a bit more sense. Those transgressions presumably led to competitive imbalances on the field — a far cry from a self-destructive addict taking his life and the lives of fellow motorists for granted on the streets of suburban Indianapolis. Yes, it’s bad and inexcusable, but it doesn’t impact the league from a competitive standpoint.
Roger Goodell, however, might be painted into a corner with the way he treats players. Guys like Josh Gordon, Joe Haden and Justin Blackmon — players who haven’t been arrested for their drug issues in the NFL — have been forced to pay high prices and suspensions that not only hurt the players, but also their teams and the fans of those teams massively. Through that lens it’s difficult to argue with the idea that an NFL owner should lose draft picks for his considerable asset of a team.
Much like I don’t think we should treat players with non-performance-enhancing drug issues like criminals and cheaters, I don’t think NFL owners should be treated that way either. Taking away draft picks doesn’t really do much for anyone except satisfy a strange pornographic hankering we seem to have acquired as a culture for punishments. In meting out punishments though, you should be looking to address the behavior and keep it from happening again.
This sense of justice or even comparative justice is misguided and should stop. If it stops with owners first and then the leniency extends to players in future deals that’s fine by me. For me though, finding our way to the right solution doesn’t start with doubling down on unfairness by sating the never-ending bloodlust we seem to have for punishments.