The owner of the Indianapolis Colts, Jim Irsay, pled guilty to one count of driving while intoxicated and was pro forma sentenced by an Indiana State judge to one year of probation. Per the terms of his probation, Mr. Irsay will be subject to monthly drug testing, his driver’s license will be suspended, and he is to pay court imposed costs of $168.50 and a $200.00 alcohol countermeasure fee. This is a typical resolution to a typical first time DUI offense (with no accident or injury) that happens every day in courtrooms throughout the United States. So this must be the end of the story, right? Not so fast.
Because Mr. Irsay is the owner of an NFL franchise he subjects himself to a higher standard than those of an average American citizen. Being part of the NFL he is held to standards established by the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Therefore, he exposes himself to additional punishment by deferring to the jurisdiction of a whole different prosecutor, judge, and jury – that being NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Mr. Irsay surrenders himself to the jurisdiction of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and Commissioner Roger Goodell even though his DUI charge did not stem from an NFL sponsored event, nor did it occur when Mr. Irsay was working within his official capacity as an NFL owner. Mr. Irsay is subject to the terms and conditions of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy because he is affiliated with the NFL – that’s the only reason. This is equivalent to your average worker being punished by his or her employer for ‘something’ done while he or she was on their own time and this ‘something’ had nothing to do with nor directly affected the employer itself. But this doesn’t concern Commissioner Goodell.
Commissioner Goodell, always seriously committed when it comes to protecting the image and brand of the NFL, ruled that Mr. Irsay, in addition to the punishment he received from the Indiana court, will be suspended for six-games and fined $500,000.00; the maximum amount allowed under NFL rules. Yes, that is correct – a fine of half a million dollars. The Indiana court thought the appropriate monetary punishment for the first-time offense should be $368.50, but this wasn’t enough for Judge Goodell. For him, a fine of $500,000.00 is more fitting. Keep in mind that the punishment Mr. Irsay received at the hands of Commissioner Goodell exceeds and is far tougher than what an NFL player would have been subjected to under the same circumstances. Per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are no suspensions for a player receiving his first DUI and a player cannot be fined more than $50,000.00.
So why is Mr. Irsay’s punishment so sever? Because Commissioner Goodell believes, and in fact articulated in a letter he wrote, “that owners, management personnel, and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players.” So that is it. Commissioner Goodell believes, as per his letter, that owners are more important than players regarding the NFL brand and therefore are held to a higher standard. This would seem to infer, and one can only conclude, that Commissioner Goodell is serious when it come to social issues, such as drinking while driving and domestic violence, and that he is adamant that the NFL brand is not to be tarnished in any way by the negative actions or inactions of its leadership.
Do you really believe that the Commissioner is serious about protecting the NFL brand? I do, but only when it comes to the easy, media-driven issues. When protecting the brand necessitates handling something with serious or difficult social implication, Commissioner Goodell is hands-off and silent. If a complicated or intricate issue presents itself with regards to the NFL, its owners or players, Commissioner Goodell will not tackle it nor will he employ his inherent powers of handing down severe suspensions or fines. He saves this for the simple things like PED violations ala Wes Welker and Robert Mathis, or other high profile, front page titillating issues.
A real issue that Commissioner Goodell has failed to correctly handle involves Washington team owner Dan Snyder and his position to continue calling his NFL franchise the derogatory and stereotypical name of Redskins. Mr. Snyder calling his team by such a name has serious social consequences that directly affects, derogates, and insults nearly 2 percent of the population of this country. Not to mention, indirectly affecting a whole other segment of our country’s population who are sympathetic to the subject.
By way of background, the Washington name situation involves the use of the term Redskins by the franchise. In addition to Native Americans, numerous civil rights advocates, educators, and sports fans consider the use of Native American names and symbols by non-native sports teams be a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping. The Washington team maybe only one example of the larger controversy but receives significant public attention due to the name itself being defined as derogatory or insulting in modern dictionaries, and the prominence of the team being located in this county’s nation’s capital. Those officially censuring and demanding the name be changed include 23 Native American tribes and more than 50 organizations that represent various groups of Native Americans. In addition, on June 18, 2014, the Tradmark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) voted to cancel the Redskins federal trademark registrations, considering them “disparaging to Native Americans”.
So, the United States Patent and Trademark Office found the use of the term disparaging to Native Americans, but Commissioner Goodell and Dan Snyder don’t seem to think so and allow for the name to continue to represent the Washington franchise and the NFL.
In fact, Dan Snyder told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he is adamant he doesn’t have to bow to pressure to change the team’s nickname because, in his opinion, it’s not disparaging to Native Americans. (This in light of the fact that the USPTO said it was).
Mr. Snyder mentioned William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, the team’s first coach whom the Redskins were named after to honor his “Native American heritage,” and Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, who helped design the team’s logo as examples of the positive history of the team’s nickname.
“It’s just historical truths, and I’d like them to understand, as I think most do, that the name really means honor, respect,” Mr. Snyder told ESPN. “We sing ‘Hail to the Redskins.’ We don’t say hurt anybody. We say ‘Hail to the Redskins. Braves on the warpath. Fight for old D.C.”
Mr. Snyder responded to the question ‘What is a Redskin’ by stating “A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning.”
This is where the disconnect happens and the issue of the name gets complex, to complex and multifarious for Commissioner Goodell to take action. See, the use of the term Redskins does not symbolize what Dan Snyder thinks it symbolizes; that being a football player or a football fan. The name is a derogatory stereotype that a significant segment of our population finds offensive. Furthermore, the use of the name, in contrast to what Mr. Snyder feels, does indeed ‘hurt somebody’; it hurts a whole nation of very proud and dignified people.
The nickname being a negative, offensive stereotype, that indeed does ‘hurt’ a large demographic of our society, Commissioner Goodell has the obligation and responsibility as the head of the NFL to take action by forcing Mr. Snyder, through fines and suspensions, into changing the offensive name. Fines and suspension more severe than the ones he imposed upon Mr. Irsay. See, Mr. Irsay’s action, for all intent and purpose, only affected him. Mr. Snyder’s actions, or inactions of not changing the franchise name to something more appropriate, affects the NFL, the other NFL franchise owners, NFL fans, Native Americans, and our society as a whole.
But do you see Commissioner Goodell fining Mr. Snyder $500.000.00 or suspending him for his insensitive, thoughtless, and ignorant actions? The answer is no – but this only leads us to a second question – why not?
One of the reasons articulated by the league office is that the name of the Washington franchise is based upon tradition in that it has been the nickname of the Washington franchise for over seventy years.
Who cares? The sports industry is always evolving and changing. Franchises have routinely changed their names when they moved locations and sometimes even when they didn’t. (The New York Yankees were once known as the New York Highlanders).
Instant replay and interleague play were never the custom in Major League Baseball – now they both are the norm. A football goalpost use to be at the front of the end zone – not the most convenient place – so they smartly moved them to the back of the end zone. Thirty-five years ago there was no three-point line in basketball. And most significantly, it was a long-time tradition in MLB and the other major sports properties not to allow African-Americans or other minorities to play in their leagues. Really? Was this a good tradition? No, so it changed, it evolved as the county evolved. In fact the sports industry is a continually evolving entity that is usually at the forefront when it comes to issues that have an important social significance.
The country has evolved again and now it is time for the Commissioner’s office to evolve. Commissioner Goodell should be committed to his own words – “owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players” and take the responsible position as the figurehead of the NFL to do whatever is necessary, i.e. fines and suspensions, to make sure that the Washington franchise’s name is changed and changed immediately.