What is the precedent for Roger Goodell suspending Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson without pay for the remainder of the season?
There isn’t any.
Not that Goodell has ruled with consistency during his eight-year reign as NFL commissioner. Convoluted logic became par for the course in 2010, when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games (later reduced to four) for a personal-conduct violation without ever being charged with a crime while other players who were actually convicted of illegal acts received lesser sentences.
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The majority of 57 players that USA Today reported were involved in alleged domestic violence incidents during Goodell’s tenure between 2006 and 2013 received light discipline — if any — because there was scant outside pressure for the NFL to act.
One of them was now-retired linebacker Michael Boley. The nine-year NFL veteran is the only known player in the Goodell era besides Peterson to face charges stemming from child-abuse allegations. Boley carried even more baggage from a domestic-abuse charge in 2008 that resulted in a one-game ban.
So how did Boley skate without ever having to miss a game after pleading guilty to child abuse as part of a plea bargain while Peterson could be forced to sit for an entire season?
It was a different world before the Ray Rice fiasco changed the NFL forever.
First, a history lesson. As part of the settlement that ended the lengthy offseason lockout in 2011, the NFL Players Association agreed to continue giving Goodell wide discretion over player discipline (a move that is surely regretted now). In turn, the league agreed to the NFLPA’s insistence that players arrested for any crimes during the lockout wouldn’t face discipline from Goodell. That includes Boley.
So even though his plea agreement wasn’t struck with Alabama prosecutors until 2013, Boley already had the NFL version of a "get-out-of-jail-free card" to avoid suspension.
A source tells FOX Sports that Boley paid a $5,000 fine and entered a pre-trial intervention program to strike the arrest from the record. Boley signed with the Bengals during the 2013 season and played in 10 games.
Although the entire situation and lack of NFL punishment doesn’t reflect well on any of the parties involved, the NFLPA was doing its job to fight for its constituents’ rights. The union is doing the same again with Peterson, who pleaded no contest last month to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault stemming from the excessive disciplining of his 4-year-old son.
The league announced Tuesday that Peterson has been suspended for the remainder of this season without pay for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy "in an incident of abusive discipline" inflicted on his son in May. Peterson won’t be eligible for reinstatement until April 15, 2015, which is roughly the time that teams will begin their offseason workout programs.
A lengthy NFL press release detailed the rationale behind Goodell’s decision. It also explained why the suspension extends beyond the six-game punishment that a first offense would normally warrant under the domestic-violence policy instituted last August following the public outcry for his tepid two-game discipline of Rice. Goodell’s ruling on the ex-Baltimore Ravens running back came after Rice was allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program after assaulting his now-wife Janay in an Atlantic City casino.
The three "aggravating circumstances" cited by the NFL in the Peterson suspension: A) The injuries were suffered by a child who was powerless to stop them; B) The switch used during the incident is considered a weapon; C) Peterson has "shown no meaningful remorse" for the discipline administered. Goodell points out that Peterson may have used similar discipline toward his children in the past and isn’t sure that he has received the proper psychological counseling to prevent a recurrence.
Though there is no questioning these are commendable intentions, this sounds like another one of Goodell’s "make-it-up-as-we-go-along" disciplinary measures.
That’s what I consider the initial placement of Peterson on something called the "commissioner’s exempt list" after the Vikings tried trotting him back onto the field in September following a one-week deactivation. The NFL was essentially buying time as a multibillion-dollar industry teetered on the brink of alienating fans and losing sponsors because of the public backlash stemming from photos of Peterson’s abuse and the video showing Rice slugging his now-wife in an elevator. When it came to domestic/family violence, the due process once afforded a player to continue playing when charged or even appealing a conviction (i.e. Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy) took a back seat to damage control.
Whether the NFLPA went along with this as a good-faith step or because it was good business for all involved, Peterson was talked into accepting what in reality was a paid suspension with the understanding from a top NFL executive (Troy Vincent, according to FOX Sports NFL Insider Mike Garafolo) that the missed games would count as "time served" when Goodell’s ruling was issued.
That may be true, but Peterson probably believed he would receive only a six-game suspension. An NFL spokesman told Garafolo "there were aggravating circumstances in this case (as outlined in the statement). The time he missed on paid leave was taken into account in the discipline."
Among other factors cited was the failure of Peterson and Goodell to meet in what has become another "he-said/he-said" argument between the NFL and NFLPA about the proper protocol and semantics for handling that summit. Somewhere along the way, the wires also got crossed as to exactly what type of psychological treatment Peterson should be receiving during his time away from football that would have satisfied the league.
And let’s be honest — Goodell looks a lot better publically cracking down on a player whose actions can’t be justified after being excoriated for letting Rice slide.
In a statement announcing Peterson’s appeal to have his case heard by a neutral arbitrator, the NFLPA said, "The decision by the NFL to suspend Adrian Peterson is another example of the credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take."
Considering the circumstances and Goodell’s arbitrary use of his disciplinary power, it’s hard to disagree. But that still might not get Peterson back in uniform.