On Tuesday night, Colts owner Jim Irsay said the league admitted to blown calls late in Sunday's home loss to the Browns. The next question is whether the NFL will punish Irsay for his candor.
NFL employee Tom Pelissero tweeted this last night, after Irsay's message landed: "The NFL communicates with teams on a weekly basis about various calls. Team officials are prohibited from commenting publicly on those discussions. Now, a team owner has publicly said the league admitted to officiating mistakes. Stay tuned …"
Setting aside for now the question of whether the league specifically asked its employee to publicly make this point, will the NFL fine Irsay for speaking the truth?
It's fundamentally un-American to stifle people from telling the truth. Yes, the league wants to keep certain things in-house, in order to minimize embarrassment or scrutiny. Right or wrong, that attitude takes on a different vibe entirely when the league is stuffing its pockets with gambling money.
Transparency becomes paramount in an age of legalized wagering from which the league is profiting. As Commissioner Roger Goodell said in 2012, “If gambling is permitted freely on sporting events, normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.”
You know what else fuels speculation, distrust, and accusations? Admitting privately that mistakes were made and punishing anyone who would dare tell the world that mistakes were made.
The NFL strongly considers P.R. in making its decisions. In this case, will it want to continue to fuel the story about missed calls at the end of Colts-Browns by punishing Irsay? Will the league want to invite criticism for creating the perception that it's trying to conceal its flaws?
Arguably, the best approach could be to let it go. To move on. To wait for the next slate of bright, shiny objects, starting on Thursday night with Bucs-Bills. Or, at most, to issue a reminder to all teams about the existing rule against disclosing such facts, with a general threat that the next one to cross the line will be punished.
Pelissero said to "stay tuned." If the league is going to do nothing to Irsay, there's nothing to "stay tuned" for. As to whether the league will realize the problems that can arise from smacking Irsay with a fine and stop short of doing so, well, stay tuned.