Prior to even receiving the arbitrator’s decision, the NFL executed a preemptive strike and announced this morning that they have suspended Adrian Peterson “without pay for at least the remainder of the 2014 NFL season,” according to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Don’t be confused, the NFL’s suspension is an indefinite one. Peterson can only apply for reinstatement after April 15—nothing is guaranteed.
In fact, Goodell wrote to Peterson that if Peterson doesn’t comply with the therapeutic program the NFL is putting together for Peterson, it “will result in a lengthier suspension without pay.”
For those of you stating that the suspension should have been limited to six games, you’re not reading the modified NFL Personal Conduct Policy correctly. On August 28, Roger Goodell unilaterally modified the Personal Conduct Policy to include a six-game ban for first offenses. At least that’s what it sounded like at first glance.
The language used by Goodell in the August 28 modification gives Goodell complete discretion over the number of games a player is to be suspended for the first offense.
The important language in Goodell’s letter modifying the policy was that first offenses would result in a six-game suspension “with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant.”
The squishy “consideration given to mitigating factors” and “when circumstances warrant” language renders the six-game suspension phrase useless. When I read Goodell’s letter, I see what he really means is that a first offense can result in a suspension from 0-to-16 games. Peterson now knows this too.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Under the CBA (assuming the NFL is willing to still abide by those terms), Peterson has three days to appeal Goodell’s decision. There’s no question that by the time you’ve read this, Peterson already filed his notice of appeal.
At the appeal hearing, Peterson will set forth reasons why his suspension should be reduced. Goodell, after consultation with NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith, will appoint one or more designees to serve as hearing officers. Goodell could also serve as the hearing officer to decide Peterson’s appeal. Based on the vast amount of evidence against Peterson, a reduction is highly unlikely.
After filing the notice of appeal, typically Peterson would be able to play. In this case, however, Peterson is still on the Exempt list and will have to remain sidelined until the arbitrator decides that issue.
If the arbitrator’s decision is that Peterson is to be removed from the list, then theoretically, Peterson could play until his appeal has been decided. Again, the chances of that occurring don’t seem reasonable given the NFL’s robust desire to keep Peterson off the field, not to mention the Vikings would most likely deactivate him like they did in Week 2.
It seems odd the NFL didn’t also put in its announcement today that they now agree to remove Peterson from the Exempt list. With Peterson’s criminal case concluded and having been disciplined by the league, there is no need for him to be on the list.
It would be wise for Goodell to show a rare act of good faith and agree that Peterson could be taken off the list and the normal disciplinary procedures be followed. But maybe that didn’t happen because the normal disciplinary procedures have vanished in favor of this new, Wild Wild West, shoot-from-the-hip type of discipline Sheriff Goodell has implemented.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TUESDAY
Typically under the CBA, appeal hearings “will be scheduled to commence within ten (10) days following receipt of the notice of appeal.” But according to Article 46(2)(f)(i) of the CBA, when a player is suspended during the season, an appeal hearing regarding that suspension “will be scheduled for the second Tuesday following” the player’s notice that he wants to appeal.
The expressed intent of the CBA is that in-season appeals “shall be heard no fewer than eight (8) days and no more than thirteen (13) days following the suspension.”
Of course, the CBA allows the parties to agree to an earlier or later date, but that’s doubtful in this case—the three sets of lawyers (the NFL’s, NFLPA’s and Peterson’s) haven’t agreed upon much thus far and the future doesn’t look promising either.
Peterson’s appeal is expected to be heard next Tuesday with a decision coming “as soon as practicable following the conclusion of the hearing,” according to the CBA, which of course, means one day to a week, or longer. Again with the squishy language.
PETERSON’S ACTIONS FOLLOWING HIS APPEAL
After Peterson loses his appeal, which the smart money is on, he will have the option of filing a civil suit in court. In fact, DeMaurice Smith has said that "litigation is inevitable."
Filing a civil suit against the NFL won’t, by itself, allow Peterson to play immediately. He would have to convince a judge to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO), preventing the NFL from implementing the suspension that was just handed down.
While Josh Gordon had a fantastic case well suited for court and a TRO, Peterson does not.
Goodell's August 28 Letter
The NFLPA and/or Peterson will challenge the modified Personal Conduct Policy because it was not collectively bargained for—that was the August 28 letter Goodell forced down the players’ throats. In other words, the NFLPA had no input into the changes Goodell made—it was simply an executive order issued by Goodell.
Peterson will argue that the policy, like all other policies controlling the NFL and its employees (which all players are), must be collectively bargained for.
Even if the court were inclined to agree with Peterson’s argument that the August 28 letter is null and void because it wasn’t collectively bargained for, the ultimate decision to suspend Peterson would be supported by the CBA and the previous, unmodified Personal Conduct Policy.
In court, that’s called harmless error. That’s when you can show that error occurred, but when you take away the error, the result would’ve still been the same.
No Meeting With Goodell
Another, but weaker, argument the NFLPA and/or Peterson could make is that Goodell did not have a meeting with Peterson prior to disciplining him. And no, the hearing Peterson didn’t attend on Friday was not the typical meeting called for in the Personal Conduct Policy.
The Personal Conduct Policy states, “the employee will also have the opportunity, represented by counsel and/or a union official, to address the conduct at issue.” This has typically taken the form of Goodell having a meeting with the player.
Peterson wrote a letter to Goodell this past Thursday indicating that he was willing to have such a meeting but wouldn’t participate in the new, invented, and arbitrary disciplinary hearing the NFL was conducting.
The failure of Goodell to have the sit down with Peterson appears to have detrimentally affected Peterson. In his letter to Peterson, Goodell stated, “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.” Goodell went on to state, “we are unaware
OH BY THE WAY PETERSON, FIRE YOUR PR PERSON
I received a few questions about how Adrian Peterson was handling his case from a public relations standpoint. To put it plainly, it sucked.
I went to go see the movie, The Judge, this past weekend. Robert Downey, Jr.’s character said this to his dad (who was being questioned by police): “If you don’t talk, you walk.” Downey’s character then told his dad, “With every word, you’re limiting your options.”
If only Peterson had seen that movie, and then had the ability to abide by Downey’s advice.
If you read the NFL’s statement to Peterson, you see that one of the benchmark reasons for suspending Peterson was because Peterson’s “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.”
The comments the NFL was referring to were Peterson’s comments that what he did was defensible, and that he would do it again. He also made several comments—which the NFL cited—via text message to the child’s mother that shows Peterson felt it was justified to abuse the child.
Instead of making those statements and appearing completely oblivious to the abuse the 4-year-old child suffered, Peterson would have been well served to take the opportunity to demonstrate to the NFL, and more importantly, his family, that he wants to be more educated regarding effective parenting. Instead, Peterson has done little to nothing in regards to showing remorse for his actions.
In fact, Goodell stated in his letter to Peterson, “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.”
Had Peterson engaged in a therapeutic program of his own that included parenting classes and some form of parent-child therapy, maybe he would’ve received a time-served suspension, maybe not. Either way, it would have been better for Peterson’s case (and his family) had he done so.
FALLOUT OF IT ALL
The practical effect of Goodell’s decision places the Vikings in a horrible state of limbo. The 2015 NFL Draft begins on April 30, fifteen days after Goodell’s arbitrary April 15 date when he will review Peterson’s progress.
While the Vikings were most likely going to release Peterson following this season, now they will be forced to do so. The Vikings will be in the dark as to whether Goodell will be unsatisfied with Peterson’s progress and issue a lengthier suspension or not. Preparing for the draft and free agency will be complete guesswork for the Vikings.
Adrian Peterson has been the face of the Vikings for years, but that time has come to an end. Peterson’s next carry will be his first carry for his new NFL team in 2015—perhaps the Seahawks once Lynch is released.
And Greg Hardy, if you’re reading this, now might be a good time to get off that Exempt list.
Follow me on Twitter, I won't put you on any exempt list.