The Vikings want you to know it was their idea to put Adrian Peterson on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List. And it was, in the same sense that when a man is pinned by a 300-pounder on steroids, it's his idea to say “Mercy!”
This was not, as the Vikings insist, about “getting it right” or even acknowledging a mistake. This was about pressure, applied from the three places that matter most to Vikings ownership:
1. The NFL, which reached its yearly quota of scandal-bungling in early September, well ahead of schedule.
2. Local government. Governor Mark Dayton said publicly that the Vikings should suspend Peterson. Dayton also helped the Vikings get their new $1 billion stadium approved. Ground has already been broken on the stadium, but the Vikings didn’t want to lose their political allies. You know the old saying: Keep your friends close, and people who might give you a completely undeserved tax break closer.
3. Sponsors. This sums up the week for the Vikings: On Monday, general manager Rick Spielman stood before a backdrop of Viking and Radisson logos and said, “We feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child.” On Wednesday, there was a different backdrop, with no Radisson logos. In between, Radisson suspended its sponsorship of the team.
Put all those together, and the Vikings decided to “get it right,” and admit “a mistake,” and “do the right thing,” which they said so often, I can only assume that this week’s pre-game movie will be Do the Right Thing. But the right thing was pretty obvious Monday, and it didn’t change. Peterson beat his son, and probably not for the first time. The case is still pending. The Vikings could not just trot him out there Sunday as the face of the franchise and think everybody would be cool with it.
The Vikings tried a little too hard to stay on message Wednesday. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and Spielman stuck to their talking points, and it felt forced and insincere. This was a desperate attempt by an organization to save itself from further embarrassment ... but hey, at least it was an attempt.
That’s more than you can say for Roger Goodell.
More than a week after the Ray Rice punch video hit the Internet, Goodell has still not held a press conference. Other than interviews with carefully chosen media outlets, Goodell has silently put on his flame-retardant suit and hoped nobody could find him in the smoke. He also appointed an independent investigator, Robert Mueller, though Mueller isn’t all that independent (his law firm, Wilmer Hale, has done work for the NFL) and it’s unclear how much he will investigate.
You can be sure of this, though: Whatever Mueller says, this month changed the NFL for the better. And if Goodell survives, he will do so with reduced power. Many players don’t trust him, and now a large percentage of fans don’t, either. Because Goodell is Goodell, he will surely try to sell himself as the leader of a new NFL, one that cares passionately about domestic violence and children’s welfare. But who will believe him?
Goodell will try to navigate his way out of his mess, just as the Vikings are clumsily trying to navigate their way out of theirs. Both made the critical mistake of levying punishments so lenient, there had to be blowback. Goodell did it with his two-game suspension of Rice, and the Vikings did it by trying to bring Peterson back just three days (and one game) after he was indicted. If they had suspended him for four to six games, they probably could have withstood the blowback.
So what happens now? Maybe Peterson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, can negotiate a quick plea agreement, putting his football future in Goodell’s hands. Then Goodell can suspend Peterson and find a way to make himself look like the hero again. If Peterson’s case goes to trial, he will likely have to miss the entire football season.
The Vikings tried to do what teams have done for years -- paid public respect to “the legal system,” hoped an expensive lawyer would find success in the courts and prayed the public forgot because hey, sports are fun! The Vikings are so clumsy, they tried this at the worst possible time in sports history to try it, and predictably, it blew up on them.
Times have changed. You changed them. Congratulate yourselves, sports fans. After years of acting like you don’t care about anything except winning, you showed a conscience this month.
The NFL had to put pressure on the Vikings because you put pressure on them. The governor knew he could criticize one of the most popular athletes in the state because you agreed with him. Sponsors had to put pressure on the Vikings because you were angry. The Vikings didn’t want to get it right, but they did. You made them. Well-done.