Roger Goodell’s hammer came down hard on Tuesday morning when the NFL commissioner suspended Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson without pay for the rest of the current season for beating his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch, leaving the boy with visible welts and cuts on his legs, back and scrotum.
Peterson has already had to sit out nine games of this NFL season (with pay), since news of the case broke; now, he has been banned without pay for the year’s remaining six games, which will cost him a more than $4.1 million in forfeited salary.
At first blush, justice appears to have been served in a troubling scandal involving one of the NFL’s biggest stars. But the ban Goodell handed down Tuesday actually underscores yet again how messy, convoluted and ad hoc the NFL’s methods of disciplining players still are, particularly in cases of domestic violence.
In his letter to Peterson announcing the ban, proudly posted to the NFL’s website just as the East Coast news cycle churned into overdrive on Tuesday morning, Goodell wrote that “you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct.” Goodell’s letter also told Peterson that his reinstatement “will depend on your actions,” and that “you must commit yourself to counseling a rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy.”
But DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL players union, fired back with a rebuttal that got right to the crux of the problematic larger issues that Peterson’s punishment exposes.
“The process that the NFL has employed since the beginning of the season has been arbitrary, inconsistent, uneven and inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Smith said on ESPN Radio. “You get the feeling over the last few months that the National Football League has simply been making it up as they go along.”
Make no mistake: The NFL’s discipline of Peterson represents a marked step up from its schizophrenic, reactionary and cynical handling of the Ray Rice debacle earlier this year. But the problem remains that Roger Goodell still operates behind a veil of secrecy, and that the league has no bulletproof protocol for handling cases like Peterson’s, aside from the six-game mandatory suspension for first-time domestic violence offenders that Goodell unilaterally announced while under fire in August.
The players union wants personal conduct policies and punishments to be covered under its collective bargaining agreement, not left to the discretion of an image-conscious league front-office — and, namely, Goodell. The union is appealing Peterson’s suspension, and the dispute has the potential to become evermore ugly, bitter and torturously incremental than it’s already become.
As Bloomberg‘s Kavitha Davidson summarized the situation on Tuesday, the NFL’s “dubious disciplinary methods simply invite the kind of messy battles between union and league that we’re sure to see with Adrian Peterson.”
Perhaps this time, the ends justify the mysterious means in Goodell’s suspension of Peterson. But while full meltdown mode appears to have passed, the NFL’s Adrian Peterson suspension is also just another sign that its disciplinary and credibility crisis is still far from over.