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What if Adrian Peterson Wasn't an NFL Athlete?

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Bob Levey

If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you should be well aware of the scheduled hearing Adrian Peterson is having this Monday regarding his status with the NFL. He has been on the Exempt List ever since he was deactivated for the Vikings week 2 game following his arrest for injury to a child. Since his court date 11 days ago led to him plead "no contest" to misdemeanor charges of reckless assault of a child, he has been stuck on the Commissioner’s Exempt List while he awaits a decision about punishment for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. But should we be sympathetic to Adrian Peterson? Is he being treated unfairly by the NFL given what has transpired?

A lot of folks in the media believe Peterson should be immediately reinstated, given that what he has done was "only a misdemeanor crime" and that "he’s already missed a lot of games." Many fans have expressed the same sentiment, even here on this blog. But as I’ve watched some recent news unfold about other people in our society being suspended or fired from their jobs for far less than what Adrian Peterson has done it begs the question: why do we want to watch Adrian Peterson play football, and why should he avoid employer punishment?

Consider a school teacher in the Dallas area who recently lashed out against the events in Ferguson, Missouri with some dumb and racially insensitive remarks on twitter. Does anyone think that what she has done was worse than what Adrian Peterson did? That woman was at first suspended without pay, and then ultimately fired from her job for merely speaking (albeit, saying some really stupid things) on twitter. Does the fact that she holds a job in the public eye play into the punishment? She’s not the first person to be fired from a job for tweeting insensitive or inappropriate content either. The point is people lose their jobs all the time for simply "saying dumb stuff." There are more legitimate reasons for people to be released from their employers than just saying dumb stuff, perhaps like habitual incompetence that eventually leads to designing a faulty ignition switch that kills dozens of people. The bottom line is most people can be fired from their jobs for really no reason at all when you get right down to it, let alone committing a crime or saying dumb stuff. Although workers do have some rights, such as suing for wrongful termination in this case, if Peterson were suspended indefinitely, he would likely not be able to make that claim. At the end of the day, Adrian Peterson should not be immune to punishment in this case, just because he’s "a really good athlete."

So why should Adrian Peterson, who in my opinion has done a lot worse than simply "saying dumb stuff" (although he’s certainly done that too in the past) be given a free pass and escape any form of real punishment? Sure, he’s missed the last 9 games over this issue but he hasn’t lost a single dime in NFL salary. He’s lost some sponsorships because of everything, but that’s beside the point. The point is the NFL hasn’t really punished Adrian Peterson in any meaningful way. And based on the fact that people in other walks of life get fired and suspended from their jobs for far less than a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on a child, I don’t think Adrian Peterson (or any of us for that matter) should expect an immediate reinstatement for Peterson or any kind of "time served + fine" type of punishment.  

The updated Personal Conduct Policy that the NFL adopted back in June can be found here, and it is this policy that Peterson has violated and from which he will face punishment. Unfortunately the basic take-away from that document is that Roger Goodell has complete authority to administer punishment however he sees fit. The idea floating around about a "6 game suspension" comes from the NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy which was adopted several months after the Personal Conduct policy, and one that Peterson has not violated. So there is no clearly delineated structure for punishment in any of the NFL policies that we can look towards for guidance regarding potential punishments. And there is no precedence for this kind of offense that I could find (ie, no player has faced discipline for a misdemeanor crime of reckless assault to a child). But even if there had been prior cases in the NFL like Peterson’s case, it would be irrelevant, because they wouldn’t have fallen under these new conduct policies. To make a long story short: any type of league punishment is on the table, and it will be Roger Goodell who makes the final call.  And it will be the same situation for many other NFL athletes who are dealing with their own legal issues right now.

For me personally, I have no idea what to expect in the form of punishment. In my opinion Adrian Peterson should consider himself extremely lucky if he faces any discipline that is less than an indefinite suspension. Based on what has happened in other walks of life, if he were a school teacher, a computer scientist, an engineer, a journalist, an actor or just about anyone else in the world, he would have more than likely been fired immediately for his crime. So why should he be allowed to continue playing football? Is time-served and a fine a big enough punishment? Is an indefinite suspension too much? I don’t have all the answers, but either way come Monday we’ll have greater clarity about the whole situation.