The Adrian Peterson child abuse saga was adjudicated in a court of law two weeks ago, with Peterson pleading no contest to a misdemeanor of reckless conduct. For the last two weeks, we've waited (and waited) for it to be adjudicated in the court of Roger Goodell, which is a far more capricious, arbitrary, and random court.
Since Peterson's placement on the Commissioner's Exempt List after Week 1 of the NFL season, we kind of knew that eventually the legal case would reach a resolution that would keep Adrian Peterson out of jail (and it did), but how would the league handle Peterson's transgressions, especially in light of one of the most horrific spate of domestic assault incidents involving players in league history?
In this very space, we surmised two weeks ago:
It's fairly obvious that the league sees Peterson's transgressions as a punishable offense of some sort (why else would he be on the Exempt list?), but the question becomes do they see the time that he has been required to miss over the last several weeks as "time served"?
Also, if they do see it as "time served," is eight games enough of a suspension, or will they tack more on? And because Peterson's been paid over that eight week time frame, will he have to pay a fine of some sort, given that suspensions for conduct policy are generally unpaid?
This morning, we got our answer, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Peterson would be suspended without pay for at least the remainder of the 2014 NFL season, and will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15, for violating the NFL Personal Conduct Policy in the incident of abusive discipline that he inflicted on his son last May.
In a letter to Peterson, Goodell stated the following:
"The timing of your potential reinstatement will be based on the results of the counseling and treatment program set forth in this decision. Under this two-step approach, the precise length of the suspension will depend on your actions. We are prepared to put in place a program that can help you to succeed, but no program can succeed without your genuine and continuing engagement. You must commit yourself to your counseling and rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy."
Under the bylaws of the league's conduct policy, Peterson has three days to file a written appeal, which the NFL Players Association has already said they intend to do. Under the bylaws, he can be represented at that appeal by his legal team and the NFLPA to plead his case. Perhaps, more importantly, during the appeal process, Peterson remains on the Commissioner's Exempt list, which means he continues to get paid.
Peterson's 2014 salary is $11,750,000, which is divided into seventeen weekly "game checks" of $691,176 before taxes. Peterson has played in one game this season, which means he has been paid nearly $7 million this season for going to court, working out, and watching the Vikings on television.
Now, similar to how the Ray Rice domestic assault punishments (yes, punishments plural, for the same incident, because Roger Goodell) played out, this story of Peterson's suspension will be less about Peterson and his future rehabilitation than they are about the league, its commissioner, and the reactive nature in which punishment is doled out.
To refresh, Ray Rice was initially given a two game suspension for assaulting his then-finacee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino. The suspension, thought to be light by many people, was handed down after a hearing in which Rice told Goodell he struck Palmer in the face.
Then, over the summer, video surfaced on TMZ of the actual incident that Rice described in his meeting with Goodell (Ozzie Newsome, Ravens GM, who was in the meeting, confirmed this) when Goodell gave him the initial two game ban. However, the video gave the public a startling, disturbing image to react to, an image that made a two game suspension really feel like a parking ticket, an image that had people fuming at Goodell for the message (or lack thereof) sent by his light punishment.
So what did Goodell do? He went into total total P.R. disaster recovery mode -- suspending Rice indefinitely, revamping the league's conduct policy to make stricter rules for domestic abuse, rules that made the conduct policy sound a lot tougher. He called a press conference to address the media, and did so about as poorly as one could possibly do.
In short, the Rice story became about Goodell surviving as a commissioner and trying to go from an F- to a C- as a leader of men.
I paint the picture of the haphazard discipline environment that the Rice punishments have spawned not to justify what Adrian Peterson did in hitting his 4 year old son repeatedly with a small tree branch. I paint that picture to show just how much power Goodell has been handed and how unwieldy and mismanaged that power is and has been.
Peterson's legal punishment was meted out by the courts. He committed a crime that, while disturbing, certainly strays into a far more gray area than Ray Rice punching his fiancee in the face. Every non-sociopath agrees Rice was totally in the wrong. Child discipline, on the other hand, has many complicated societal and geographical elements that make punishing it in Goodell's spin-the-wheel world of discipline problematic, to say the least.
Goodell's reasoning for the discipline handed down was outlined in his letter to Peterson:
"First, the injury was inflicted on a child who was only four years old. The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant, and your actions clearly caused physical injury to the child. While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse - to flee, to fight back, or to seek help from law enforcement - none of those options is realistically available to a four-year old child. Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.
"Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete.
"Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct. When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not 'eliminate whooping my kids' and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child's mother. You also said that you felt 'very confident with my actions because I know my intent.' These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future."
Going forward, Peterson's attending counseling sessions and understanding the severity of his conduct would appear to be a requirement for him to re-enter the league next season. Goodell wrote:
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"The well-being of your children is of paramount concern. In the absence of speaking to you to understand your current disposition toward child discipline, we cannot be sure that this conduct will not be repeated. Moreover, we are unaware of any effort on your part to acknowledge the seriousness of your conduct and your responsibility to demonstrate a genuine commitment to change.
"In order to assess your progress going forward, I will establish periodic reviews, the first of which will be on or about April 15, 2015. At that time, I will meet with you and your representatives and the NFLPA to review the extent to which you have complied with your program of counseling and therapy and both made and lived up to an affirmative commitment to change such that this conduct will not occur again. A failure to cooperate and follow your plan will result in a lengthier suspension without pay."
I don't necessarily disagree with Goodell's view on parenting and the grotesque nature of Peterson's parenting methods. I do think Goodell being the one to come down from on high to handle in-league punishment is a continued recipe for disaster. His wild swings in punishment for the exact same crime pre-and post-TMZ video in the Ray Rice case disqualified him from being an effective judge and jury. In short, Roger Goodell punishes players NOT based on what's best for the game or society, but based on what's best for Roger Goodell.
I don't know if Adrian Peterson is qualified to be a parent, I just know I don't want Roger Goodell deciding whether he deserves to be an NFL football player.