On brink of season, Michael Irvin's status with NFL Network remains unknown

In only four days, NFL Network's signature show, Game Day, will broadcast a 2023 season preview. The question of whether one of the four primary broadcasters will appear on the show remains unresolved.

Rich Eisen hosts, and Kurt Warner, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin serve as analysts. But the league has still not decided whether to put Irvin back on the air.

Irvin, a Hall of Fame receiver, remains on ice for something he allegedly said to an employee of a Phoenix-area Marriott hotel during Super Bowl week. The league has suspended him, for months, based on these alleged comments to someone who was not a co-worker, at a time when Irvin was not working.

Few, if any, other employers would take such action. He has not been charged. He has not been sued. Someone made a complaint about him for something he did when he wasn't on the job. Someone who isn't even one of his colleagues.

That doesn't excuse any improper language he might have used, obviously. But think of the standard this creates. Are people suspended from their jobs for months because they gave someone the finger in a public place? Because they got into an argument with someone at the store?

Yes, the NFL has a Personal Conduct Policy that polices off-duty behavior. But unless and until the NFL is willing and able to apply the standard that has been applied to Irvin to others (specifically owners) who have engaged in bad behavior away from work, Irvin should be immediately reinstated.

Stephen A. Smith, who worked with Irvin at ESPN, recently expressed concern regarding the treatment Irvin has experienced.

“I think it’s a travesty what happened to Michael Irvin over the last few months,” Smith said on his podcast, via Brandon Contes of “There was a woman, allegedly, supposedly, whether it was her or the company itself, that accused him of saying something inappropriate or whatever the case may be. The NFL, meaning the NFL Network, sent Michael Irvin home from the Super Bowl. Pulled him from their coverage. . . .

“That was bad enough, but for him have an accusation levied against him that ultimately jeopardized his career? And to this day all we’ve seen is a 45-second video of him conversing with a young lady in the lobby and then walking away. And she walked away. We have no audio. We have no accusations that extend beyond that specific experience. For him to be off the airwaves since February, to be off the airwaves that long and to have his job in jeopardy, his future in jeopardy, is a travesty.”

Smith is concerned that there may be a racial component to Irvin's extended state of limbo.

“I have to admit to you as a Black man that it was incredibly scary,” Smith said. “And it’s something that I articulated to some folks in positions of power at various networks who will remain nameless. When I came to the defense of Michael Irvin, I hesitated because again we didn’t have all the facts. And I said, ‘Okay well let’s see it.’

“But when week after week and month after month went by and not a damn piece of evidence came forward, I said, wait a minute, somebody who doesn’t happen to be Black, who is a female gets to stand before a Black man for 45 seconds, nobody hears what they said to one another. He didn’t touch her other than to shake her hand if that. And they walked away from each other, and that’s all it takes for this man to lose his career? What the hell does that say about the rest of us?”

Again, the fact that Irvin was off the clock and that the person who complained was not an NFL co-worker makes a strange situation even stranger. The fact that FS1 has since hired Irvin to no backlash at all shows that he is employable.

While Irvin works for NFL Network, NFL Network is the NFL. There is no distinction, no firewall. The league is calling the shots on this.

At some point — very soon if not today — the man whose autograph is on every football needs to pick up the phone and ask someone beneath him what precisely in the hell is going on here?