Adrian Peterson Suspended for Remainder of Season Without Pay, NFLPA to Appeal.

Running Back Adrian Peterson has officially been suspended for at least the rest of the season, and will be required to undergo league mandated therapy before being let back into the league. The NFLPA have stated that the suspension represents a “credibility gap” between what players are told, and the actions the league take, and insist that they will support Peterson  in appealing the suspension.

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case finally appears to be drawing to a close, but not in the way that Peterson or his representatives hoped. According to the letter sent by commissioner Roger Goodell to Adrian Peterson, the running back will be suspended for the rest of the year, and will not be eligible for reinstatement until April 15th 2015, at the earliest.

The letter stated that the reason for the suspension is, in part, due to the fact that Peterson had “shown no meaningful remorse for [his] conduct” and indicated “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 cited comments made by Peterson during his indictment that he would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids’ as an proper form of discipline for them, and published text messages to the child’s mother where Peterson appears to defend his action, even knowing the injuries he had caused to the child.

Goodell did not mince his words, describing the ‘switch’—a thin tree branch—used by Peterson to discipline his 4-year-old son as being “the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete”.

The letter also stated while an adult may fight back, run away or call the police for help “none of those options is realistically available to a four-year old child” while also affirming a belief that the child suffered “emotional and psychological trauma” and categorising what Peterson called a ‘whooping’ as “criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.”

For their part, the NFLPA have indicated their intention to appeal the decision on Peterson’s behalf, and support him in his attempt to return to the football field.

In their press release, the NFLPA characterised the league as having a “credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take” and insisting that dolling out punishment under the new personal conduct policy represents “new and arbitrary disciplinary proceeding.”

They indicated that league representatives had previously advised Peterson that they would consider time on the commissioners exempt list as time-served. This approach would likely have seen Peterson required to repay some, if not all, of the salary he received during this time by way of a fine, but would have cleared the path for his return to the field this season. The statement implies that after agreeing to this in person, they went back on their word and implemented a suspension nonetheless.

Peterson and the NFLPA have previously criticised the new Personal Conduct Policy as being unilaterally imposed, and not representative of what they agreed under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) agreed upon a few years ago. Peterson, his legal counsel and the NFLPA refused to appear before Goodell, nor present him with requested evidence during the disciplinary hearings, instead choosing to pursue an independent legal route. 

They had previously requested that an independent arbitrator hear the case, and force the NFL to immediately reinstate Peterson—which would have seen Peterson eligible to suit up while his suspension was being appealed—but in a blow for Peterson and his legal representatives, arbitrator Shyam Das ruled that the league can keep him on the commissioner’s exempt list, and prevent him from taking the field until the case is fully resolved.

This means that Peterson will continue to be paid by the Vikings until the appeal is resolved. The NFLPA have stated that they will insist on an independent arbitrator, though under the CBA the league is not required to do so, and the ultimate choice as to who will hear the case falls on Roger Goodell. However, the league will likely comply with this request, rather than risk extending this debacle further.

Assuming the suspension holds, Peterson will not play again in the NFL until at least 2015, and even then, his return to the field is not guaranteed. The league insist that Peterson undergo a course of therapy designed by Dr. April Kuchuk, an instructor in the NYU Department of Psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City District Attorney’s offices and New York courts, who specialises in abuse towards children.

Peterson will be expected to meet personally with Dr. Kuchuck before December 1st, and fully comply with the therapy suggested before he will be eligible for reinstatement.

According to the NFL statement, Dr. Kuchuck has initially indicated that two types of therapy are likely to be helpful in Peterson’s case—first, therapy that addresses successful and appropriate ways of parenting children who do not live with the patient, using a therapy called “parent-child interactive therapy” and, cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches the patient effects of abusive behavior on children and how it traumatizes them. Although Peterson has apparently been meeting with a therapist as part of his plea agreement, the NFL insists that since this therapist, Dr. Cynthia Winston, does not offer these therapies, additional league-mandated therapy will likely also need to be followed.

Finally, Goodell was explicit in making clear that any future breaches of the Personal Conduct Policy, other league rules or conditions of his plea agreement will be treated very seriously, and could result in a lifetime ban, as allowed for second offences under the new Personal Conduct Policy.

“It is imperative that you to avoid any incident of this kind in the future,” Commissioner Goodell stated in his letter. “Any further violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in additional discipline and may subject you to banishment from the NFL.”

If and when Peterson is cleared to return to the league, of course, this does not guarantee him a place on any team’s 53 man roster. Although some former NFL offenders, including players like Michael Vick—who served multiple years in prison for his part in the “Bad Newz Kennels” illegal dog fighting ring—have successfully returned to the league, the recent tide of bad press against the NFL in regard to domestic violence may cause any team to think long and hard about allowing the star to join their locker room.

Peterson will almost certainly be cut by the Vikings at the end of the season. Although Peterson is only half way through a 6 year, $96 million contract, according to SportTrac only $36 million of this was guaranteed, each and every penny of which has already been paid by the team. The result of cutting him therefore, would be nothing more than a small $5.05 million cap hit, spread over two seasons.

This would break down to a loss of $2.65 million against the current cap, and $2.4 million against their cap next season. The reason for this is any money paid to a player as a bonus, rather than salary, is paid all at once, but accounted for over the lifetime of the contract, allowing teams to pay negotiate pay raises and contract extensions with players, without it negatively impacting their current salary cap. For example, if a team paid a player a $10 signing bonus in addition to his base salary on a 5 year contract, his cap hit would be and additional $2 million per year. If a player is cut, however, the rest of that figure needs to be accounted for.

This penalty is a small price to pay for shedding a player who is both a negative influence, and whose $15 million a year salary going forward is over $5 million more than the next highest paid running backs, and more than $12 million more than the average at the position.

The Vikings have little incentive to keep him on the payroll, and may have been forced to cut or trade the star even without his legal troubles, if he had not been willing to take a pay cut. After nearly a year away from the game, any team thinking about signing Peterson will be gambling big that Peterson will return to his 2012 best, and in doing so, potentially gambling with the reputation of their franchise.

So even if Peterson is reinstated for the 2015 season, there is no guarantee he will ever see the inside of an NFL locker room again.

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