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Ben Smith

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Irsay merits healthy dose of compassion

The laughter stopped in the wee hours, somewhere out in the moneyed hollows of southern Hamilton County. There was a car moving too slowly on the wrong part of the road, a cop hitting his flashbar, a pull-over, a can-I-see-some-identification-please.

Inside the car was Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts.

Everyone knows Irsay, or thinks he knows him. The magic of the Internet is that it confers an illusion of familiarity, and so, yeah, of course we know Irsay: Latent hippie, big-hearted philanthropist, able to indulge in Magical Mystery Tour flights of fancy in a single bound ... or at least 140 characters on Twitter.

He’s the very archetype of the lovable ultra-rich loon, Thurston Howell III without the island, or Lovey or Gilligan. And, like Thurston, he came with his own laugh track.

All you had to do was jump on Twitter in the wee hours – it was always in the wee hours that Irsay did his best work – and it was Hey, let’s see what goofy thing Irsay’s tweeting tonight.

That all ended out in Carmel on Sunday night, when Irsay was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and four counts of possession of a controlled substance. He spent the night in the drunk tank, same as any other schmo who doesn’t happen to own a National Football League team.

Irsay does, and now the NFL will, and should, mete out punishment to him under its personal conduct policy. And, because this is America in 2014 and it’s just what we do, he will be excoriated in certain circles as a lousy role model for the league and the players within it. Fingers will be wagged, double standards invoked, the usual hypocrisies (“Let’s see if they punish him the way they would a player”) enumerated.

What should outshout all of that, however, is this: A healthy measure of compassion for a man who has done much good for his community and traveled some long hard miles repairing the reputation left by his father, of whom he is the absolute antithesis.

I don’t know just how desperate Irsay’s battle with substance abuse has gotten, but people who do know are convinced it’s gotten pretty desperate. He supposedly kicked an addiction to painkillers in 2002, but the problem with addiction is it never stays kicked. Stop swinging the leg, and it will always come crawling back.

And so the battle will begin anew, as Irsay entered rehab Tuesday. And, as human beings, the purest thing we can do is neither condemn nor ridicule but pray for the man.

He needs help. And help doesn’t come in 140-character one-liners.

We’ve all had our fun at Irsay’s expense, and the guy driving this sentence is as guilty of that as anyone, if not more so. But the jokes aren’t funny anymore, if they ever really were. And so it’s time to kill the laugh track and rewrite the script.

Because Thurston Howell III needs rescuing. At long last.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.