On the heels of a summer where he came across, at best, as completely tone deaf and, at worst, as an incompetent boob, followed by a trouncing in Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needed a win.
How bad were things for the embattled commish? Well, his botching of the Rice discipline actually made America somewhat sympathetic toward a guy who blasted his wife in the face with a clenched fist in a casino elevator. Roger Goodell actually made Ray Rice a victim. That's all you need to know about the necessity for Goodell to win something.
So it's no surprise that when it came time for a third party to hear the appeal of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's suspension (until April 15, 2015) on child abuse charges, Goodell planted one of his goons, former NFL exec Harold Henderson, as the arbiter.
And it was even less surprising that Henderson upheld the league's discipline of Peterson last Friday. Same random Price Is Right discipline wheel, just a different guy spinning it.
Henderson upheld the suspension, under which Peterson is done for the 2014 season without pay and can apply for reinstatement on April 15, 2015, despite the following:
1. Peterson's transgression, while grotesque and disturbing (striking his four-year-old son repeatedly with a wooden branch as punishment), was committed as a parent disciplining his child, a much grayer area than Rice's decision to strike his then-fiancée, now-wife in the face with a clenched fist.
2. Peterson's transgression occurred back in June, long before Goodell announced his newer, stricter discipline policy for domestic abuse, yet the parameters of the punishment mirror the new policy.
3. Peterson had a conversation with NFL VP of football operations and former player Troy Vincent during which Peterson claims Vincent told him that Peterson's time on the commissioner's exempt list (over ten weeks at full pay) would qualify as "time served" and that his subsequent discipline would be two games, at most. ABC obtained a copy of the audio, which can be heard below:
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A portion of the transcript of the November 12 phone call between Vincent and Peterson that is in question goes as follows:
AP: ''It will be two additional games, not time served.''
TV: "No, no, no, no ... it won't ... The one this weekend. So really, it's just next week and you ... you ... you ... you will be back."
AP: "OK, OK."
Later in the call, Vincent seems to imply that the meeting with Goodell would be key in making the penalty of two games plus time served happen.
AP: "Two games?"
TV: "Yeah, that is it ... but you cannot ... you got ... you've got to act. You gotta just go through the process."
The league and Vincent have both claimed that Vincent wasn't promising Peterson anything but merely coming to him as a friend to explain possible scenarios and to try to get him to attend a hearing at the commissioner's office on November 14. (Personal commentary: Vincent seems like a slime ball.)
4. The league seems to be more hung up on Peterson's decision to skip the November 14 meeting (which was not a sanctioned meeting under the conduct policy) and a perceived lack of remorse over what he did. In other words, Goodell is more angry over Peterson's unwillingness to play by Goodell's made-up rules and over Peterson not satisfying Goodell's definition for how contrite one should be in the wake of haphazard punishment.
In other words, Peterson doesn't want to play along with Goodell's playing God. Unfortunately for Peterson, Henderson apparently worships at the altar of Goodell.
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So now the NFLPA is down to its final option in defense of Peterson, filing a lawsuit against the NFL in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, challenging Henderson's decision made Friday to uphold Peterson's suspension. In the lawsuit, the union argues that Henderson's decision was biased, unfair and contrary to the collective bargaining agreement.
Goodell announced the specifics of the league's new conduct policy last week, with its stricter punishments for domestic violence concocted by multiple committees and industry professionals amid a sea of red tape. Ultimately, though, Goodell reserved the right to his final judgment on anything disciplinary.
On the surface, the policy will appease those who merely look at the surface and want their pound of flesh when someone is accused of wrongdoing. The policy looks like the league is trying to make progress. However, in the end, it's the same old iron fist of Goodell, just with thicker iron.