It's a dysfunctional gang at best, the NFL owners, full of miscreants, drunks, and coupon-clipping heirs to a legacy forged in a bygone era when men were men and gangsters belonged to the Mafia.
In a month, a year, or who knows how long, they will be knocking on the door of San Diego taxpayers, their hands out to collect the virtual extortion money offered by what remains of the city’s largely Republican political establishment, led by Kevin Faulconer, a happenstance mayor who owes his job to a messy sexual harassment scandal.
Sordid as the league’s sins against taxpayers have been in San Diego, things appear poised to get worse, with the NFL owners — ensconced in their well-lubricated skyboxes or gathered around the mahogany tables of their private board rooms — eager to seize their multibillion-dollar tributes from an American public mesmerized by beer and the flickering video images of concussed Sunday gladiators, drug abusers, and wife beaters.
The players are following in the footsteps of the owners, whose blood-curdling family feuds, business frauds, and alcoholic binges are seldom discussed by members of the nation’s news and sports media, who must forever provide their own pound of flesh to the league with fawning deference to the NFL bosses.
In September, the San Diego Union-Tribune handicapped the chances of the Chargers moving to Los Angeles, pegging Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay as an “almost certain” ally of the team-owning Spanos family.
“At age 37, Irsay became what was then the youngest owner in the league. It was a natural progression for someone who had been the team’s general manager and whose father, Robert Irsay, owned the team,” the paper said.
“Robert Irsay, who made a fortune running a heating and air conditioning business, bought the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and promptly traded them for the Baltimore Colts. In 1984, in a middle-of-the-night move, he relocated the team from Baltimore to Indianapolis.”
Noted the item: “Irsay is a longtime friend of Spanos.”
And that was it.
Not mentioned was the Irsay dynasty’s decades-long history of trouble with alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as the March 2014 suspected overdose death of an Indianapolis woman in a townhouse Irsay gave her two years ago.
A year ago this September, Irsay, now 56, was suspended for six games and handed a $500,000 fine by the league for copping a plea to drunk-driving charges resulting from a failed sobriety test after a March 2014 traffic stop in Carmel, Indiana, during which cops found a hoard of prescription drugs and $30,000 in cash in his luxury vehicle.
“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel, and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote Irsay following announcement of the league sanctions against him.
“We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”
At his court sentencing, which included suspension of his driving license and a stint in rehab, Irsay admitted he’d been abusing OxyContin and hydrocodone prescribed by a doctor.
“I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family and the community,” he said in a statement of apology. “I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country’s terrible and deadly problem of addiction. It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases — one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth.”
There were no further explanations for Irsay’s drug possession or the reason he was carrying so much cash. Worse yet, Irsay’s extensive record of previous prescription-drug abuse — including three overdoses secretly known to the NFL that only later became public — went unacknowledged by the commissioner.
Goodell’s 2014 statement was quickly discounted as a public relations ploy by those making book on the team, who observed that Irsay’s odds of recovery from booze and drugs might be stacked against him by his father’s own negative history with alcohol, along with his stepmother’s run-in with Carmel cops 12 years earlier.
As reported by the Indianapolis Star in July 2003, Nancy Irsay, widow of the late Colts owner Robert Irsay, was pulled over after “she sped her Porsche along Illinois Street, going airborne as she zoomed across 38th Street.” The 52-year-old then refused two field sobriety tests and was hauled off to jail.
After a three-year high-dollar legal battle, in 2006 Irsay finally pled guilty to a charge of reckless driving. Not taking the sobriety tests, she told Indianapolis television station WTHR, was due to a genetic lung disorder. “I did not have the pulmonary function to take that test which is why I never took the breathalyzer.”
Nancy confessed to the station that “her son [sic] never contacted her during her ordeal, nor did he offer support.”
Added Mrs. Irsay, who married Robert in 1988 after he divorced first wife Harriet, to whom he had been wed 41 years: “Some of the people think that I was the younger blonde woman that dragged Bob away from his marriage, that I was undermining. Suddenly I’m this evil woman that tried to take the team, that destroyed a family. I just can’t believe it. It just boggles my mind.”
The TV report continued, “She says she wants people to know that the last ten years of her life have ‘been really awful.’ During that time Irsay lost her husband, sold her Sweet Charity horse farm and has battled Carmel annexation of her main house and party barn.”
Ten years earlier, as her 73-year-old, hard-drinking husband Robert, felled by a stroke in November 1995, lay dying on a ventilator at his Indianapolis mansion in December 1996, she told the New York Times that “alcohol made him volatile.”
Reported the Times, “Coughs rouse him from sleep, setting off the ventilator’s beeper. He is fed intravenously. A recent six-week hospital stay for his heart problem slowed his physical therapy. ‘But he is not dying,’ said his 46-year-old wife, Nancy Irsay. ‘He didn’t come home to die.’”