Continuing a season-long trend in a year unlike any other in NFL history, there are nothing but losers all around in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s indefinite suspension by the league on Tuesday. An already bad situation just got substantially worse for everyone involved.
The league office and commissioner Roger Goodell clearly wanted to look and act tough in light of the too-soft Ray Rice punishment, but that’s the problem with going too lightly in the first instance -- it often prompts a subsequent overreaction. The NFL, it seems, has a calibration problem this season. Rice wasn’t initially punished enough, so Peterson loses essentially an entire season in response. And if you think those two league-issued punishments are in no way related, you haven’t been paying attention.
And now we know that Commissioner’s Exempt List really is just a “dusted off” mechanism to buy some time, until the NFL decides what it really wants to do. A suspension with pay is still a suspension, and the league is now trying to argue that that kind of suspension isn’t really a punishment, by adding another six-game ban (at least) on top of it. Double jeopardy redux, anyone? Rice and Peterson might have more in common than being sidelined NFL running backs.
Peterson is no martyr in this whole affair, of course. He whipped his 4-year-old son to the point of abuse, and has maintained that he can discipline his child any way he sees fit. I don’t know exactly what “no meaningful remorse’’ means, as the league accuses him of, but if Peterson still doesn’t know where the acceptable line is between disciplining and abusing a child, then another six games on the sideline isn’t going to do the trick.
In reality, any way you slice it, Peterson is on a next-strike-and-you’re-out-forever basis going forward, because another incident of child abuse would end his career and make him an untouchable pariah for any team to employ. If the league thinks more counseling will be a greater motivator for Peterson than career preservation, it has miscalculated once again.
Then there’s the Minnesota Vikings, who have not exactly bathed themselves in glory through the entire Peterson saga. The Vikings erred in re-embracing Peterson too quickly after his Texas grand jury indictment first surfaced in mid-September, -- after deactivating him for Week 2, the team reinstated Peterson and intended to play him in Week 3 before he was placed on the exempt list -- and they’ve been running scared ever since. This development likely ends the relationship between the Vikings and their star running back, and the team’s ownership has lost its voice and a good amount of self-respect by going so utterly silent on a matter so important to the organization.
The Vikings have completely punted this issue to the league office and Goodell, offering only the tepid, “We respect the league’s decision and will have no further comment at this time” statement Tuesday morning. When will be their time for comment? Who knows, maybe not until the team some day inevitably inducts the former league MVP into its ring of honor. Stay tuned for that announcement.
And then there’s the NFLPA, which is doing the expected and appealing Peterson’s suspension, vowing to fight the NFL’s “new and arbitrary disciplinary proceeding,” while it continues to call for the league to collectively bargain with the players on a “fair personal conduct policy.”
Make no mistake, while the union always has to represent the rights of both the guilty and the innocent, protecting the principle of future precedent, the Peterson case has become a proxy fight for yet another round in the endless union versus league office battle that began with the last CBA negotiations of 2011.
They have become entirely predictable and tiresome at this point, and it’d be nice for everyone to at least acknowledge that it’s very much in the best interests of the entire league -- players and owners -- to get the issue of personal conduct discipline correct and consistent, and let the game begin to move past this sorry spectacle of both misdeeds and mismanagement. But if that kind of reasonable middle ground were possible, the NFL would have had HGH testing more than three years ago, when it was actually agreed to.
Instead with the union and the league, it’s Us against Them, chapter 47. An exercise in zero sum game maneuvering. And the “credibility gap’’ that the NFLPA loves to cite does indeed continue to grow, but for both sides, not just the league, and not just the players. And further legal wrangling over player discipline will likely only complicate the goal of trying to make the process more fair and transparent.
In the league’s forgettable 2014, the disappointing and disturbing Peterson case just took the path that we have come to expect this season. No resolution. No compromise. Just further confrontation and complication. And there is still no end -- or winners -- in sight.