The NFL suspended Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for the first six games of the season and fined him $US500,000 ($A540,000) for violating its personal conduct policy.
The NFL came down hard on Tuesday just hours after Irsay pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from an embarrassing March traffic stop.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Irsay was barred from team facilities, practices and games and cannot represent the Colts and NFL meetings or events. The fine was the maximum allowed under league rules.
“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” Goodell told Irsay in a letter released publicly by the NFL.
“We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”
The 55-year-old Irsay pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated and acknowledged during his appearance before a Hamilton County judge that he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone when he was arrested on March 16 near his home in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.
Irsay did not comment outside the courtroom, but he apologised to Colts fans in a prepared statement.
“In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health,” he said.
“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.”
Irsay’s case was closely watched around the NFL – not least among players – because there are few examples of the league punishing an owner like Irsay.
Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $US100,000 ($A108,000) in 2010 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following his guilty plea to driving while impaired.
A player with a first-offence misdemeanor DUI would not be suspended and would be fined no more than $US50,000 ($A54,000) under terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
Police said an officer spotted Irsay driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal.
Officers said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed field sobriety tests. Various prescription drugs were found in his vehicle, along with more than $US29,000 ($A31,000) in cash.
Irsay acknowledged in 2002 that he became dependent on painkillers after years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem.
He will be on probation for a year and is prohibited from drinking or possessing alcohol during that time. He must submit to drug testing during his probation and successfully complete a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Less than 48 hours after his arrest, the Colts said Irsay entered a treatment facility.
Irsay’s driver’s license also was suspended for one year by Judge J. Richard Campbell. Less than 48 hours after his March arrest, the Colts said Irsay entered a treatment facility. He resumed his duties with the Colts at the NFL draft in May.
Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father’s second wife. Forbes magazine has estimated Irsay’s net worth at $US1.6 billion ($A1.73 billion).