In Praise of Jim Irsay

I have hammered on NFL owners for going on a month.  I’ve had little good to say about their tactics in the labor fight.  I have pilloried several of them (particularly Jerry “Archie” Richardson). 

I probably don’t make the point often enough or emphatically enough, but I really do admire Jim Irsay.

In this entire fight, no owner stands to lose more.  Irsay has always been a champion of ‘league think’.  He’s never going to be the one to openly criticize other owners or the path the NFL has chosen.  He stands to lose quite a bit in this whole fight (a year of his once-in-a-lifetime QBs prime, the Super Bowl coming to his city), and two of his team leaders are among the most visible and influential players in the conflict (Saturday and Manning). 

While sticking to the party line, Irsay has done a good job pleading for sanity.  I don’t know the man, and I do know his comments came as part of the NFL’s “talks not lawsuits” mantra.  That mantra is disingenuous since it didn’t come with an offer to lift the lockout.  I imagine that if the owners offered to agree NOT to lock out the players in 2011 while they talked, they would be talking.  Still, when Irsay calls for statesmanship, I believe it, and I choose to believe he’s talking to his own side too.  I hope that’s not naive.

The point of all this isn’t to talk about the labor fight, but really to just say how much I appreciate Irsay’s efforts to be fully integrated in the Indianapolis community.  His attempt to fly the family of Butler senior Matt Howard to Houston was touching.  Irsay’s pied piper routine on Twitter is fun.  Irsay supports and promotes local businesses and engages with fans.

Best of all: he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Sports is entertainment, and Jim Irsay has never forgotten that.

Irsay’s public persona in Indy couldn’t be further from that of his father in Baltimore.  He’s the opposite of cheap, exuding generosity.  His team has become a model for small market success, and the franchise’s value far outstrips the market size in Indy.  He’s done nothing but build up good will on and off the field.

So, as I return to my stinging rebukes of the NFL owners in coming weeks, know that it pains me to do so.  I hate lumping all the owners into one pot.  I don’t believe they are collectively acting in an ethical or honest way. I believe their choices will lead to their own ruin.  But none of that changes the affection I feel for the Mr. Irsay. 

I know Jim Irsay wants football in 2011, and I trust him to do his part to ensure a fair resolution.

I just wish the NFL had more Jim’s and fewer Jerry’s.