NFL: Judge overturns Vikings’ RB Peterson suspension
By Brian MurphySt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- When a federal judge overturned Adrian Peterson's NFL suspension Thursday, it appeared the monthslong battle between the Minnesota Vikings running back and league Commissioner Roger Goodell was...
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - When a federal judge overturned Adrian Peterson’s NFL suspension Thursday, it appeared the monthslong battle between the Minnesota Vikings running back and league Commissioner Roger Goodell was nearing an end.
It took half a day for the fight to resume.
Five hours after U.S. District Judge David Doty of Minneapolis vacated a Dec. 12 arbitration award that favored the National Football League, the league said it had filed a notice of appeal, starting a process that could last into June.
Doty’s decision seemed to free Peterson to return to the Vikings, where he is under contract for $12.75 million in 2015, but the NFL declared in a statement that Peterson has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list “pending further proceedings.”
Peterson spent most of last season on the exempt list, a de facto suspension that allowed him to draw his $691,000 weekly salary. After pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault Nov. 4 in Texas for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch, he received an unpaid, six-game suspension but ultimately collected 14 of 17 game checks.
Although Doty effectively nullified that suspension, the NFL appeal could extend Peterson’s banishment well past the April 15 date Goodell had set for his earliest reinstatement.
The appeal will be heard by a three-judge panel at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, court clerk Michael Gans said. Each side has 30 days to file briefs, and the judges typically take a month to review arguments before scheduling a hearing.
“We could conceivably hear this maybe as early as the May court session but June most likely,” Gans said.
The NFL Players Association, which had sued the league on Peterson’s behalf, declared Doty’s ruling “a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness.”
Doty sided with the union’s arguments that the NFL could not retroactively suspend Peterson under the revised Personal Conduct Policy for behavior that occurred under the old policy - essentially turning the standard two-game suspension into six games.
“Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights,” the union said. “This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”
Peterson’s contract runs through 2017 and carries a $15 million cap hit next season but it is not guaranteed. There are no indications the Vikings want to negotiate a pay cut for their onetime franchise player. On Thursday, the team called Peterson “an important member of the Minnesota Vikings.”
“Our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the Vikings said. “Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”
Doty’s ruling echoed a decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who as an arbitrator overturned Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension for domestic violence. Doty determined that Harold Henderson, Peterson’s arbitrator, “simply disregarded the law of the shop and failed to meet his duty under the (collective bargaining agreement).”
“Although Henderson purported to rely on factual differences between Rice and this case,” Doty said, “he did not explain how those differences would justify a different result. Nor did Henderson explain why the well-recognized bar against retroactivity did not apply to Peterson.”
Longtime federal arbitrator Roger Abrams, who resolves salary disputes between Major League Baseball players and teams, called Doty’s ruling “remarkable.”
“The collective bargaining agreement gives the commissioner enormous leeway when disciplining players for misconduct, but what Doty is saying, in effect, is that Henderson made a mistake,” said Abrams, a law professor at Northeastern University.
Doty’s ruling was the latest twist in a fierce legal battle among Peterson, the union and the NFL over how much power Goodell has to discipline players accused of domestic violence.
The Vikings banished the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player in September after he was indicted on a felony child abuse charge in Texas. Peterson admitted to whipping his son with a switch during a May visit to his home outside Houston but said he did not mean any harm the child.
“Happy for him,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said in a text after hearing of Doty’s decision. “He deserves it after going through a tough season.”
Goodell punished Peterson under a conduct policy owners enhanced in August and ordered him to be examined by a league-appointed panel of physicians and behavioral experts.
The NFL maintained Goodell can impose broad discipline in the interests of the league, that Peterson received due process and the courts had no jurisdiction to intervene in its collectively bargained policy.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.