NFL owner goes to rehab: PR fallout?

Here’s a situation that doesn’t happen every day. An arrest on DUI and controlled-substance charges is never a good thing. But when the person in hot water is Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts NFL franchise, there’s more than a legal problem – there’s a public relations issue for the team. Fact: It doesn’t do much for community relations when the multimillionaire owner of the city’s professional football team is facing felony charges for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs.

As reported by Josh Sanchez in Sports Illustrated, the Colts’ front office has intervened in the case. In a press release, the team announced that Irsay has checked himself into a “highly-respected health care facility” – for these purposes, this is likely a rehabilitation clinic of some type. In addition to the obvious desire to help him get his life back on track, the team also has several public relations purposes in urging steps like this:

* The team hopes to improve community relations by showing its concern for its owner, but also takes steps to prevent him from repeating actions that are potentially harmful to the public.

* The team intends to prevent or reduce penalties that could be assessed against the owner by the NFL office.

* The team gives the message that it is capable of operating normally even when its owner is unavailable, which reduces uncertainty and doubt in the event that he is later suspended by the league.

Converged communicators who pursue a career in public relations will likely never encounter this specific situation, but it’s still an interesting illustration of how even a giant NFL team has to manage acute PR crises.

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