The Adrian Peterson story came to what could be the first of many ends on Tuesday. Peterson, who plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault in Texas on November 5, was suspended for the remainder of the year by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell has also already said that Peterson could miss games NEXT year, on top of the remaining six games of this year, which are on top of the nine games he’s already missed waiting this mess out.
The Peterson situation, along with the statement from the league accompanying his suspension, is hard to place in the right context. The League has long been willing to send its players onto the field equipped as human missiles for the excitement of its fans. Only recently did they start dealing with the long-term effects of this approach on the health of its players. The League largely started dealing with on field violence only because it was backed into a corner by science and public pressure.
With in-game violence being shoved into the dark, there really is no surprise that the NFL has left off-the-field violence issues more or less off its radar. The Peterson saga, however, has made two things abundantly clear in light of the League’s recent and high-profile violence issues: (1) the League is about to have a significant fight on its hands with the player’s union — NFLPA — and (2) the National Football League as moral compass is a startling image.
Start with the labor side. Peterson was indicted by a Texas Grand Jury on Friday, September 12. The Vikings immediately deactivated him for that Sunday’s game against New England. Peterson went to Texas, was charged, booked, posted bond and was released.
Monday, September 15, the Vikings reinstate Peterson along with a statement about how he was disciplining a child (great call by the crack staff in Minnesota). Sponsors go ape shit, social commentary crawls out of the woodwork, and Minnesota’s Governor calls Peterson’s actions “a public embarrassment.” By Wednesday, September 17, the Vikings backpedal like a cornerback about to get severely beat on a go route.
And then, like magical fairy dust, came the answer: the Commissioner’s Exempt List. The list appears to act as sort of a purgatory for players. No one really even knew it existed, or at least talked about it, until the League no doubt threw it to the Vikings (and Panthers) as a lifeline in all of this “oh shit, people notice we haven’t done much about our league being hella violent” nonsense. And there Peterson sat, with pay but unable to play until all of this got sorted…a convenient solution that enabled everyone to hit the pause button to go and figure out what the fuck to do now.
From there, things get sticky. There really isn’t a way to justify time on the exempt list as anything other than a suspension. The fact that the player gets paid to sit in the corner away from his friends doesn’t make up for the fact that these guys, above all else, want to be on the field and make their money on the field. Paying a guy for his time shouldn’t make it any less of a suspension in a case like Peterson’s. He wasn’t put there for a special or unique circumstance. He was put there because the League was in trouble, with no exit in site.
Roger Goodell was caught in a hail storm. Let’s not forget Goodell is the same guy that, only a few weeks earlier, suspended Ray Rice for only two games for knocking his fiancé out cold. In public. On camera. His response to Rice, stepping back, was to call in all the women folk for a sit down, (and he couldn’t even do that right), and develop a new domestic violence policy. Eventually the policy was written, like commandments on stone tablets, that a first offense would cost you six games, and lifetime ban came with the second.
While you can mildly applaud Goodell for taking action, it was a day late and several million dollars short when you consider the League’s financial strength and importance. It also, good policy or not, consisted of drawing completely arbitrary lines. What makes six games any better than four or eight? No one knows.
The NFLPA is now set up to be a giant thorn while also the NFL’s saving grace in all of this. Somewhere along the way, the NFLPA has allowed Goodell to have all of the power when handing down suspensions related to personal conduct. And not only does Goodell get to decide the punishment, but he’s also the guy who hears the appeals of his decisions. In short, when he speaks, you’re done. The process is of a thumbs up/thumbs down variety that rivals the ancient Romans.
And therein lies the issue with how Peterson was handled. There’s nothing that says Goodell, the NFL and the Vikings couldn’t do exactly what they did. The lack of process allowed the situation to occur in a vacuum and the League and Commissioner more or less untouchable by the Union. The lack of a conduct policy in the collective bargaining agreement allows the NFL to do this.
Unfortunately, a Commissioner with the ability to act this arbitrarily undercuts the very spirit of labor law. And that’s where the battle is going to be waged. Whether the NFL gets off the legal hook in that battle is unclear. They won’t, however, win that war. The process surrounding Peterson highlights a massive gap which the League has conveniently ignored and the NFLPA has, embarrassingly, not worked hard enough to close. It’s unlikely the NFLPA will allow the gap to exist much longer, hell or high water. When one of your biggest stars and best athletes gets put through this, it’s time to put up or shut up. You either have power or you don’t, and you have to be willing to take the fight as far as necessary, which makes a future strike a real possibility if it doesn’t get handled. The NFLPA can’t afford to look weak…again.
Where this ends up is actually fairly predictable. The League and the NFLPA will have it out for a while in the media. Then they’ll sit down, they’ll consult a whole lot of “experts,” and they will announce, arm in arm, a policy that offers the NFLPA the clarity it needs, while giving the League and Commissioner enough space to continue to protect its brand from egregious behavior.
Sounds rosy, right? Well, the NFL is still involved, so no. The NFL has shown throughout this week and this year how lost they are on the issues of the day. If you don’t think so, just read Goodell’s statement supporting the suspension. It’s full of self-righteous indignation for Peterson’s actions from a man and a League that has allowed its players to die early, kill themselves, and kill others.
I don’t agree with Peterson’s actions. I have a daughter about to turn one. I cannot imagine raising my hand, or any object, to her for any reason. That does not mean Peterson deserves less than due process. He got that opportunity from law enforcement, but not from the NFL. Yesterday, Roger Goodell showed that he will stop at nothing to protect his brand, no matter how laughable he sounds.
Goodell isn’t qualified to gauge Peterson’s “remorse.” He isn’t a licensed psychologist or social worker. He has not worked with, treated or diagnosed ether the victim or the offender in situations of domestic abuse. For him, of all people, to act like some moral authority, standing up for the victims and the voiceless, is repugnant and offensive. Each time he takes a stand, each time he pledges to get things right, he sounds more ridiculous.
Let’s be honest: Goodell did nothing here but overcorrect in the face of public outcry. Ray Rice went south in a hurry, and Goodell was going to stop at nothing to show that he’d learned his lesson, that not even the League’s best are immune, and that the League wouldn’t be a national laughingstock for the second time in three months.
Particularly if you read Goodell’s statement in the context of the NFL’s historic stance on violence, his words highlight why he should step down and let someone else move the League forward after this year’s media circus. He is out of touch and a distraction. He’s laughed at more than heralded. In light of its past transgressions and ignorance, the NFL doesn’t get to suddenly jump to the forefront as an authority, a moral compass, on violence, no matter how hard the Commissioner tries. The League’s issues are societal issues. We, and the NFL, would be much better served talking about them as such.