The NFL’s suspension of Adrian Peterson was never about doing the right thing


Commissioner Roger Goodell and his team of attorneys know suspensions don’t hold. Eventually the NFL gets sued by the players association and athletes like Adrian Peterson get reinstated to play. Why taking the loss means major gains even if it does nothing to solve the problem.

By Andrew Pridgen

Last fall, the NFL lawyer machine did what it does best. It assessed the short-term PR benefit to suspending a child abuser and do-si-do’d it with the fallout/payout from the appeal.

Thursday, a federal judge overturned the NFL’s punishment of the Minnesota Vikings’ premiere running back arguing Adrian Peterson was unjustly suspended by the league.

According to the original suspension, Peterson was to be off the field until at least April 15 for hitting his four-year-old son with a switch, tearing the boy’s scrotum.

Last November, at the time of the suspension, Roger Goodell was criticized for not doing enough or moving fast enough with Peterson or Ray Rice. Rice was given his indefinite walking papers in September after a video of the Baltimore Ravens featured back punching his then-fiancee in an elevator went viral.

The calculated seriousness of the suspensions wasn’t lost on the general public who were wooed back with swift action accompanied by a clever but hollow season-long anti-violence campaign.

To speculate about a league built on violence and how that violence bleeds outside the sidelines to effectively stain the another is like a critical look at the artistry in screensavers. The point is both implicit and moot.

Though Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge for the child’s beating in November, the commissioner suspended the top jersey seller for not showing contrition. Tactically, that may have been Goodell’s only misstep.

Harold Henderson, an arbitrator appointed by the NFL, upheld Goodell’s decision in December based on the league’s personal conduct policy—a policy that was a work-in-progress at the time. The NFL Players Association used the loophole to argue Henderson was biased at the time of the decision and based on this federal court judge David S. Doty overturned the suspension this week.

Though Peterson was paid during his absence, Doty’s decision opens the NFL up for a civil suit, but that probably won’t matter much either. The NFL cut a $765 million check in 2013 in the concussion lawsuit—the largest settlement paid out by a sports league to a group of players ever. All told, three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars represented less than ten percent of one year’s profit for the nonprofit NFL whose teams split $6 billion in revenue last year as individual franchises enjoy an average $1.5 billion valuation.

The calculated cost to make statement suspensions that keep fans from being outraged and accused athletes off the field is a trend that defines the game. Inciting cultural change through analysis, education, counseling and the recognition of the connection between violence off the field and the brutality on it—is not.