How The NFL Exploited A Child Abuser To Restore Its Brand

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1. When talking or writing about the NFL's handling of the Adrian Peterson case, it's difficult to separate discussion of the vicious cruelty of Peterson's actions from the fairness of the NFL's adjudicatory process. You can wholeheartedly believe Peterson belongs in jail, or in hell, and believe at the same time that the NFL's power is dangerously centralized and wielded capriciously for labor-crushing ends.

2. The NFL recognizes that difficulty, and counts on the inability of the public to divorce the two concepts. It's one thing when the hammer falls on a guy who smoked weed one too many times, but the league knows that no right-thinking person is going to go to bat for Peterson, who stuck leaves in his four-year-old's mouth and whipped his testicles with a stick. It's the boiling frog story, and you tend not to notice the extremity of the heat when it's scalding someone who morally deserves it. But once you've mentally excused the NFL's actions under circumstances as extreme as child abuse, you empower the NFL to use that muscle memory for the next set of circumstances, ones which may not be so extreme.

3. This is a pure PR play on the part of the NFL, and it's almost too cynical to be believed. The league had been reeling from widespread criticism of its eagerness to co-opt the legal process and its inability to sensitively or sensibly handle morality. Peterson—a black-and-white villain—was a blessing. Maybe a bad man, maybe a man who did bad things, he's a relatively uncomplicated figure, and the NFL was thrilled to have someone to position itself against. The NFL clambered over Peterson to regain the moral high ground it never actually deserved, and is using that platform to shout out, "We are strongly against the beating of children." This is the safest and most defensible position in the world. What we're seeing is the return of the soldiers-and-puppies-and-Pinktober NFL, barely months after the Ray Rice fiasco exposed that as a thin facade. There has been no meaningful change. The league is still beyond reproach, because it cares about the children.

4. People are buying it! Jason La Canfora:

Goodell still has the hammer and in a case like this, where Radisson pulled out and corporations were falling all over themselves to chide the NFL in press releases and bask in the PR kudos they got for doing it, there wasn't going to be a docile reaction from the league in a matter involving a victim so young, and, as in the case of Rice, with there being such damning visual evidence in the public record, none of which was disputed by the accused.

Mike Freeman:

The commissioner did the right thing because someone, finally, had to stand up to Peterson.

A four-year-old couldn't do it. So Goodell did.

From the beginning of the Ray Rice disaster, the NFL positioned its failing as that it hadn't been harsh enough. That's all. No introspection, no restructuring of the process, just a buttressing of the league's desires to completely control its employees. In Peterson, Roger Goodell found a violator upon whom the league couldn't possibly come down hard enough. And the tactic worked, because the NFL tastemakers are in agreement: the commissioner got it right because he brought the thunder.

The NFL learned long ago that Americans will fawn over "sending a strong message" for its strength, not for its content.

5. It's a sad thing that the people who most want a paternalistic, borderline fascist NFL are the ones who reach the largest number of football fans. America's biggest NFL writer, Peter King, had this take today:

The NFL wanted Peterson to appear during a hearing last week at the league office to discuss what kind of counseling and education he had been taking part in during his time away from football. In essence, the league wanted to be sure Peterson was on track not to repeat the behavior. Peterson chose not to attend that meeting—the NFLPA objected to the league's hearing process, based in large part on the fact that it claimed the league reneged on an agreement to have him immediately removed from the Commissioner's Exempt List. And so the league went ahead late last week and over the weekend in deciding Peterson's punishment—which appears harsh based on the fact that he was found guilty of a misdemeanor, and the league often uses local jurisprudence as a major gauge of deciding how to rule on player discipline.

Though the NFL believes Peterson was not irreparably harmed by his time on the Commissioner's Exempt List because he was paid for the last nine weeks off the field, Peterson and the NFLPA believe that the fact he was paid should have little bearing on the case. They view the nine weeks away as being part of the discipline in the case, though it wasn't called that. So Peterson and his side doesn't view this as a six-game ban. They view it as a 15-game ban, and they think that's too much for the offense that was committed.

It's clear the league feels Peterson has not been remorseful enough about the incident, which contributed to the sanction.

The column isn't much beyond a paraphrasing of the NFL's press release. It's a sick feedback loop: the NFL acts in a way it knows will satisfy the Peter King types, the Peter King types respond by praising the NFL, and thus the NFL is legitimized. In this echo chamber, the only sound is that of a bunch of middle-aged men pleasuring each other.

6. In the absence of dissenting voices, you get stunningly tone-deaf pronouncements like this one, from Roger Goodell:

"A failure to cooperate and follow your plan will result in a lengthier suspension without pay."

"Don't contest your punishment or we'll punish you more." You can't dispute the effectiveness here, at least; the Moscow Trials did run a lot more smoothly once the accused admitted to everything in attempts to protect their families.

7. It has been stated many times, and cannot possibly be restated enough, just how twisted and arbitrary NFL jurisprudence has become. The Vikings needed Adrian Peterson to go away for a while, so they had him placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List, which is a thing that few had heard of and exists as a sort of last resort, since there are no provisions for anything better. That left his fate entirely in Roger Goodell's hands. When Peterson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, Goodell refused to reinstate Peterson. The NFLPA filed a grievance, and hours before the arbitrator was to rule, Goodell said fuck it and suspended Peterson indefinitely under the Personal Conduct Policy—another catch-all that gives him unilateral control over a player's fate.

"You get the feeling over the last few months that the National Football League has simply been making it up as they go along," said NFLPA head De Smith.

The NFLPA is appealing Goodell's decision to suspend Peterson. That appeal will be heard and ruled upon by Roger Goodell.

8. If Goodell has the power to act as judge, jury, and executioner, the players have no one to blame but themselves. The NFLPA was bulldozed in the lockout, as it has been in most previous negotiations, and any criticism of the NFL's actions on Adrian Peterson or Ray Rice or Josh Gordon remains entirely conceptual—De Smith and company collectively bargained away anything resembling a right to due process. The NFL wins. The NFL always does.