It’s been more than 24 hours since Peterson’s legal situation was resolved in a Texas courtroom. After months of speculation about potential pleas, verdicts and punishments, in the end Adrian Peterson got the proverbial "slap on the wrist" punishment after being arrested and charged with a felony of injury to a child. As it is largely common knowledge at this point, I don’t need to rehash the plea deal of a misdemeanor crime, or the judge’s sentence for said crime, but make no mistake: Adrian Peterson is now a criminal in the eyes of the law. While he did plea "no contest" and functionally did not admit guilt in this case, the plea bargain and judge’s verdict still found him guilty of misdemeanor reckless assault of his 4-year old son.
Now that the facts are on the table we can begin to speculate about what should happen next. There has already been much discussion on this very blog about that topic, but so far no one in the NFL has even hinted at any possible punishment Peterson may face (on top of the legal punishments already dished out by the Montgomery County court in Texas). There have been several statements made by a few of the involved parties though. Adrian Peterson emerged from the court room yesterday to make the following statement:
"I want to say I truly regret this incident. I stand here and I take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than any one of you could even imagine. I’m looking forward to, and I’m anxious to continue my relationship with my child. I’m just glad this is over. I can put this behind me and me and my family can begin to move forward. Thanks."
"The Vikings are aware of today’s plea agreement involving Adrian Peterson. We will have further comment at the appropriate time."
They basically said, "the decision about Adrian Peterson can wait" presumably until Roger Goodell weighs in. Since Goodell was dealing with the Ray Rice appeal today, I’m not surprised that we haven’t gotten an update about Peterson’s status on the Commissioner/Exempt List. But despite the resolution of Peterson’s legal issues, no one directly involved with the incident weighed in yesterday on his future with the Vikings or the NFL.
Today, Adrian Peterson, and anyone else following the story have been playing the waiting game regarding his status. The mother of the child involved in this incident released a statement through her attorney:
"The entire matter has been very difficult for all involved parties. She has valued her friendship with Mr. Peterson over the last seven years. She and Mr. Peterson have shared a parental relationship for four years with a fun, beautiful little boy. My client knows that Mr. Peterson loves their son very much and has confidence that he will remain an involved parent with their son throughout his life. My client asks the media and the public to respect her and their son's privacy. My client has no interest in Mr. Peterson's career being harmed and hopes that the NFL will not impose any additional punishment on him."
This was the first mention of his future career from an official statement from any involved parties. Some of Peterson’s teammates spoke out after practice today showing their support for Peterson and that he would be welcomed back to the locker room with open arms. Kyle Rudolph said:
"We all know the kind of person he is. We've stood behind him this whole time. You'd be crazy not to welcome him back into that locker room. It would be a big pickup for this locker room being we have so many young guys. Any time you can have a veteran back in that locker room, the leader that he is in the locker room, out on the practice field, would be huge for us. Guys have chatted amongst each others, and I don't think there's anyone in that locker room that would need to hear from him. We all know the kind of person Adrian is, and I feel like he's proven that over his time here."
Jerome Felton also said:
"He's one of the best players in the world, and he's obviously somebody who's meant a lot to this community, meant a lot for the team. He's one of our leaders. He was up here in the offseason. People follow his lead because of how hard he works. So it'd be pretty nice to add that back into the team."
With the support of his son’s mother and his fellow teammates, and with a lesser charge of a misdemeanor crime I find it difficult to not want to give Adrian Peterson a second chance in this matter. While I personally disagree with the use of any corporal punishment for a 4-year old child, the fact is that it is a legal way to discipline a child in Texas. Had he not injured his child, switching a 4-year old as a form of discipline is perfectly legal. However, in this instance he was found guilty of reckless assault and even he does not disagree with the facts of the case that he went too far with the disciplining. For me personally, I want to see him receive parental counseling, and more than just "a meeting with a psychologist" about the issue as he mentioned before. If he hopes to repair his public image, in my opinion, he is going to need to become an advocate for child safety. He has an opportunity now to use his fame and notoriety from the high profile nature of this crime to help end child abuse in this country. I hope he chooses to take advantage of that opportunity. Adrian Peterson has done good things for the Twin Cities community with his various charity events and his foundation, and I hope that he can continue to do more, especially in the area of child abuse. Every 47 seconds, a child is abused or neglected in this country. That is unacceptable to me, and someone with the wealth and fame of Adrian Peterson has the opportunity to make a real difference.
There has been endless speculation about what kind of punishment Peterson faces from the NFL. I want to excerpt and highlight some parts of the new Domestic Abuse Policy the NFL enacted this past August, with relevant bits highlighted in bold:
"Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child."
The 6-game suspension is the minimum penalty that Adrian Peterson faces. And the fact that it involved repeated striking of a switch to a 4-year old child may play a significant role here. Peterson was charged with a felony, and ultimately plea bargained it down to a misdemeanor, but the NFL policy makes no distinction between the levels of crime. While it is true that Peterson has missed 8 games already this year, he has been paid his full salary, so his presence on the Commissioner/Exempt List may not count at all towards his impending suspension. It will be very interesting to watch this play out and see how Goodell handles Peterson’s presence on the Exempt List. It’s worth noting that Michael Vick was suspended for the first two games of the 2009 season after he was reinstated to the league, but was also placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s list for the first three games during that same time. That situation is unlike what Peterson faces and there really hasn’t been much precedent for how suspensions and Exempt/Commissioner lists may work together. Remember, Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely for his domestic violence charge and I’m not entirely sure his was that much worse than Peterson’s crime. Rice was also charged with a felony, but was instead put into a "pre-trial intervention program" and did not face any jail time, and ultimately could have the charges dismissed pending successful completion of the program. The two situations are pretty similar in the severity of the charge, and then subsequent leniency of the punishments.
I believe that Peterson will face a punishment in the range of a 6-game suspension at the low end, and an indefinite suspension at the high end. It’s also possible that there is some sort of "time served" element and a monetary fine at play with his Exempt List status, but I wouldn’t count on it. Either way, we are all playing a waiting game and it’s only a matter of time before Roger Goodell weighs in on the situation and the Vikings can make a decision regarding Adrian Peterson. It’s important to note that it was the Minnesota Vikings and Ownership who pursued the Commissioner/Exempt List status for Peterson, not Roger Goodell. After initially deactivating Peterson when the news broke, and then subsequently activating him the following week and receiving massive amounts of criticism and loss of sponsorships, did they change course and pursue the Exempt List. Because of this, I find it difficult to believe that Roger Goodell would want to treat the Exempt List as some sort of "time served" towards an impending suspension. It could be that Roger Goodell and the Vikings are waiting to see how the reaction of his plea agreement plays out in the media and with corporate sponsors before they make a final decision.
The only upside here is that this is all going down during the Vikings BYE week. If this can get resolved by the end of the week, it can at least give the Vikings some clarity about their running back situation before they begin major preparations for their upcoming game against the Bears in Week 11, one way or the other. Hopefully the Vikings will know if there is any chance Peterson returns to the team this season, or if he faces a much longer league suspension by the end of the week. Until a decision is made, we’re all just playing the waiting game.