Commentary: Roger Goodell Must Punish Jim Irsay Harshly

NFL commissioner should treat billionaire owner of the Colts as he would million-dollar player.

Posted: 03/19/2014 12:54 PM EDT

The photograph of a blurry-eyed Jim Irsay isn’t one we should be surprised to see. For we have seen public figures like Irsay, the Twitter-savvy owner of the Indianapolis Colts, with mug shots that make us laugh.

Just think Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan and you get the idea here. Almost nothing an entertainer, a politician or a professional athlete does shocks us anymore.

Now, embarrass … well, that’s an altogether different subject, and it’s a subject Roger Goodell, the holier-than-thou czar of all things NFL, has to confront.

In Irsay, accused of driving while under the influence of some sort of substance, Goodell must face what might be an uncomfortable decision: Does he treat a billionaire owner differently than he does a million-dollar player?

The question is easy to answer, though. It’s simple: Goodell must punish Irsay as harshly as he would a player. Goodell’s punishment must be swift, and it surely must be severe.

For like any impaired driver on the highway, the 54-year-old Irsay, who faces four felonies, put all other drivers on an Indiana road at risk. His personal conduct is unconscionable, which is why Goodell must move with all speed. He can’t let the fact that Irsay checked into a rehab clinic affect his decision.

To let it do so is for Irsay to follow a strategy other celebs have used, hopeful that agreeing to treatment will lessen the penalties they face in courtrooms and, for athletes, from their league. Rehab is a way for Irsay, who police say had “controlled substances” in his possession, to tell people he’s sorry, if his tweet after his arrest didn’t do it for him:

"Deepest thx to family, friends, fans, colleagues for the messages of support, thoughts and prayers. Impossible to tell u how much this means."

Yes, supporters have lined up behind him. People tend to do that for friends. But often a friend does something so reckless that it takes awhile to forget. For we all know the consequences of such careless conduct, because who hasn’t lost a friend to an impaired driver on the highway?

Irsay can’t take back that moment when Indiana police pulled him over, had him step out of his SUV and handcuffed him. Nor can Irsay make the mug shot of himself disappear. That photo is etched in Internet lore.

His wealth might keep him out of jail. Irsay will have the best lawyers when he does go to court, and we all know justice can be bought if the price is right.

Yet Irsay can’t buy public forgiveness, not when the public sees a league that detests egregious misconduct like his.

How much the NFL detests such behavior will be for Goodell to decide. But if the commissioner is a smidgen lighter on Irsay, his nominal boss, than he has been on other fools, Goodell will have damaged whatever credibility he has left in trying to tidy up a sport obsessed with its image.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photos from left: AP Photo/Hamilton County Sherriff's Department, Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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