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Column: Colts owner just like everyone else

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INDIANAPOLIS — He’s just a guy.

Over the years, I’ve run into Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay a few times. I don’t know him well, but I’ve been impressed the times I’ve been around him. He seemed like a sharp guy, a man with charm, smarts and drive.

Perhaps the best of those occasions was when I got to attend a sneak peek at the Indianapolis Museum of Art of the exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of “On the Road,” which Irsay had bought for $2.43 million.

Years ago, I taught a course on Kerouac and the Beat Generation, so I have an understanding and appreciation for the novel. A few minutes of conversation with Irsay about the writer revealed that, while the Colts owner is a billionaire and a NFL powerhouse, he also is just a guy who loved a book and knew it well.

When Irsay was stopped for erratic driving near his home late Sunday night and police found four different controlled substances in his car, the chatter went into overdrive. There was speculation about what this would mean for the Colts, for the NFL and for Indianapolis’ bid to host another Super Bowl. There was not much thought given to what it might mean for the man.

We tend to think of wealth, power and prominence as forces that insulate human beings from trouble and misfortune. We tend to think that people with money, influence and fame can’t have doubts, can’t have weaknesses, can’t stumble and can’t fall.

We tend to forget that a guy like Irsay is, in fact, just a guy. Right now, he seems to be a guy who’s dealing with some difficulties.

He’s admitted that he had a problem with prescription drugs in the past, one that brought him to the edge of serious legal trouble, but he’s said he dealt with it.

While it’s important to note here that he hasn’t been convicted of anything — and if he can produce prescriptions for the four controlled substances, the felony charges go away — the notion that his drug problem was something he could put in the past tense might be part of the issue.

The really nasty thing about addiction is that it never goes away. Every day is another day to fight, another opportunity to slip and fall.

The difference between him and a lot of other guys is that hundreds of thousands of people are fans of his football team and the city is banking heavily on again landing the biggest event in the world of sports. For those reasons, he doesn’t get to make his mistakes in obscurity.

And, for those reasons, we sometimes forget that there’s a human being at the center of the sports franchise and the spectacle. We forget that Irsay is just a guy going through a rough patch. He’ll either deal with his difficulties, make peace with his past and handle his health problems, or he won’t and he’ll continue to stumble.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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