Colts owner Jim Irsay opens up about addiction for first time since March arrest:
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay would not speculate on a possible NFL suspension after his arrest three months ago, but did tell Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star that he would submit to random drug testing with local authorities and offer the results to the league.
Despite his March arrest in which he “failed several field sobriety tests,” Irsay claims he has been alcohol-free for more than a decade. While he wouldn’t go into specifics about the night he was arrested, the Colts owner said he didn’t feel the need to apologize for his actions.
"I don’t think that’s something I’ll address right now," he said. "There are certain things I want to say that I can’t say. We need to let the process go forward and I’ll address that later. I’m a human being; if there’s something I have to apologize for, I would, but at this point, it wouldn’t be appropriate."
Irsay, who turns 55 on Friday, believes chronic pain in his hip and back resulting from old injuries and surgeries led to a dependence on medication.
"These diseases, both alcoholism and addiction, much like bipolar or depression and different illnesses, are still not seen as real diseases," Irsay said during a two-hour interview with the Star. "People shy away from seeking help because it’s viewed as being somewhat morally off the path, that they’ve lost their way. I really think the disease aspect gets lost when you’re talking about alcoholism and addiction; it’s not like you’re battling leukemia or a heart problem; it is that. But even in 2014, there’s still this stigma."
"That stigma gets carried forward and it’s unfortunate because people die and families get affected and people don’t seek treatment. It’s an unusual disease in the sense that the person has to diagnose himself. He has to realize that there’s this genetic disease you have to deal with through treatment. My grandfather and father both died of the disease, and you realize you’ve spent a lot of time on this path. Certainly, I have. But with the disease, surgery and pain management can be very tricky waters."
After attending rehab in several spots around the country in recent months, Irsay acknowledges he is still on pain medication for his hip and back, but he’s having it closely monitored by his doctors, who eventually will wean him off those medications if the pain abates. (Which might require surgery, but that’s a different story). He also has agreed to random drug testing with the prosecutor’s office, with those results being shared with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office.
Irsay says he continues to attend AA meetings around town and around the country.
"It’s all been a blessing, just being able to focus on my health and redouble the efforts on recovery," Irsay told the newspaper. "It’s been a long path. I still have chronic pain. But it was the good thing. In some ways, (rehab) is my greatest moment. It takes courage to try and overcome the difficulties you have. For some reason, it’s seen as unheroic.
"When someone beats cancer, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s so heroic,’ but when someone has this illness, it’s treated like you’re a leper because that person is morally corrupt, and that’s not the case."
There were other questions finally answered by Irsay. Like the $29,000 he had in his vehicle when he was arrested. Fact is, Irsay said, it’s not unusual for him to have that kind of cash.
"I don’t know why that was leaked to the press or what it had to do with anything," he said. "You’re talking about someone who is extremely generous, and I say that humbly. That’s the way I try to live my life and it has nothing to do with the law. What’s been reported out there, there’s been a sensationalizing about things that have nothing to do with the law. It shouldn’t be an issue."
He was asked what he would like to say to Colts fans concerned about his welfare and ability to run the franchise.
"I’d say my focus is on the season; my focus is on making the Colts the best team in the NFL," he said. "I’m completely engaged and have always been engaged, even when I was in rehab. You don’t tell a player you can’t monitor your investments for a month. There’s no way you’re going to have a billion-dollar investment and never fail to monitor it for a period of time.
"I would also say I’m deeply invested in continuing to make the Colts great. All my passion and efforts have been behind that. And I really appreciate all the support they’ve shown me writing letters, sending notes, people saying they wanted me to be healthy and ready to go, and that’s where I’m at. I really appreciate everything. I’ve always felt like I had a personal relationship with fans. I’m not afraid to be emotional or vulnerable or humble. Mostly, though, I want to say that this journey we’ve been on, heading into another generation of greatness, I’m truly excited about this year and where we’re at."
When ask whether an owner should be held to a higher standard than a player, Irsay answered, “Being an owner, I hold myself to the highest of standards. As a father, as a grandfather, as someone who by nature of their work has this public stage, my nature is to always take that standard seriously.” (Photo: Getty Images)