NFL Should Move Swiftly, Decisively on Adrian Peterson

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. –Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

How dare they.

The Minnesota Vikings announced Monday that they have reinstated running back Adrian Peterson, making him eligible to practice immediately and play in Sunday’s game vs. New Orleans. The news comes just a day after Peterson was held out of of a matchup with the Patriots following charges that he beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch.

The details of the “whooping’’ the Vikings running back put on his son are horrible. The child suffered cuts and bruises on his back, buttocks, ankles, legs, and scrotum. The boy also told police, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.’’ Text messages between Peterson and the child’s mother seem to suggest Peterson didn’t think he did anything wrong, that the beatings were part of a pattern of discipline he deemed acceptable. A CBS affiliate in Houston obtained some of Peteson’s texts, one of which reads:

“Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!’’

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In another, Peterson writes:

“Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.’’

The Vikings wasted little time in deactivating Peterson Friday, and who could blame them? The league was still reeling from the Ray Rice video, and from the potentially damning revelation that NFL comissioner Roger Goodell had known about the tape for some time and covered it up.

From a public relations standpoint, the NFL may have never looked worse than it did toward the end of last week. Allowing Peterson to play would have sparked more outrage, so Peterson sat, and the league avoided further accusations that it might condone violence against women or children, at least for a few hours.

So what do we make of the news that Peterson can play again? The vitriol came in fast and furious on Twitter following the Vikings’s announcement, which reads in part, “Currently we believe we are at a juncture where the most appropriate next step is to allow the judicial process to move forward.’’

Leaning on due process isn’t particularly popular, especially in the face of domestic or child abuse. It’s possible, however, to be against the acts committed by Peterson and in support of treatment by Peterson’s employer that is commensurate with punishments other players have and will receive. The NFL shouldn’t act on our outrage, shouldn’t punish Peterson because we say so, but must move swiftly and decisively.

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Precedent for domestic violence punishments is something the NFL has struggled with. The league has not had a consistent policy, historically punishing 38 percent of such cases with one-game suspensions. In response to the outcry over an initial two-game suspension given to Rice, the NFL upped its punishment for domestic violence crimes to six games for the first offense. While that’s a good step toward eventual consistency, the league then handed Rice an indefinite suspension, which is being appealed. It’s not clear whether Rice’s suspension will actually hold up once the lawyers and union are done arguing about it.

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Which brings us back to Peterson, who has not yet been convicted of a crime, and who may never be, given the way many states view and prosecute child abuse. In 2007, lawmakers in this state and others abandoned legislation that would ban parents from spanking their children. In Texas, where Peterson is being charged, spanking only violated the law when it’s committed with intent to cause “serious bodily injury’’. If Peterson gets a pass from the state of Texas, it seems unlikely the NFL could make a significantly stronger punishment hold up. The league’s new domestic violence policy fails to explicitly state whether suspensions begin when a player is accused or prosecuted.

Fans have every right to be indignant over the way the NFL has handled domestic violence. Without excusing those who commit the acts, the league also has a responsibility to get its discipline right. They better do it fast. Adrian Peterson deserves to be punished, but it shouldn’t be an off-the-cuff decision. He shouldn’t be suspended one game and back the next, with future punishments subject to the number of tweets viewed by the league office. Public pressure has been useful in driving change, but it shouldn’t completely dictate policy. Find a punishment, Roger, justify it, and make it stick.

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