For much of the 2014 season, Adrian Peterson has dominated the headlines, but not for the typical reasons. Since being placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List before Week 2 of the season, Peterson’s career – both short-term and long-term – has been in a state of limbo and he has become a lightning rod of differing opinions about him as man and a father more than as a player.
With his legal case having been officially adjudicated for more than a week, still no decision has been made to remove Peterson from the exempt list, despite a demand from the NFL Players Association that he be immediately reinstated.
As things currently stand, Peterson’s reinstatement hearing with the league isn’t going to take place until Monday and, even if he is allowed to come back immediately, that decision could come down as late as Friday or Saturday of next week, which would likely keep him out of the Nov. 23 rematch with Green Bay even with a positive outcome for him.
One of Peterson’s best friends on the team is fullback Jerome Felton, who serves as Peterson’s lead blocker. Felton has been in contact with Peterson throughout the process, but he said he has kept his distance intentionally since Peterson reached a plea bargain in a Texas court, adding that he wants to allow the situation to be finalized before he reaches out to his teammate.
“I haven’t talked to him this last week,” Felton said. “I’m just going to let his whole process play out and let him be.”
The biggest issue for the Vikings players is that it seems like the NFL doesn’t have a plan in place. The conventional wisdom was that the exempt list was only in place until the child abuse charges were finalized. That happened last Tuesday with Peterson pleading no contest to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault, yet, more than a week later, Peterson remains on the exempt list with no end in immediate sight.
“I’m frustrated by it,” Felton said. “It is what it is. You can clearly see they’re trying to let it draw out as long as they possibly can and it’s frustrating. At the same time, it’s out of my control. We support Adrian. Obviously we’re hoping to get him back, but at the same time you’d like to see something get done because it’s just drawing out for no reason at this point.”
The league has had a personal conduct policy in place for some time, but the issue of domestic violence toward women and children took a shocking turn when outrage arose over Baltimore running back Ray Rice getting a two-game suspension for knocking out his fiancée in a New Jersey casino elevator. In response to the public outcry, the league imposed a much stricter policy to deal with future cases of domestic violence and Peterson has been caught up in that groundswell.
What is disconcerting for Peterson’s teammates is that, while Commissioner Roger Goodell throws out phrases like, “We want to get it right” with high frequency, the league hasn’t come up with a definitive policy to address it other than to give vague explanations of what the policy will entail. To players, it’s the not knowing that is the primary source of frustration.
“As a player, it’s definitely concerning,” Felton said. “You don’t know where you stand. There’s not a set of rules to go by. They can make it whatever they want to at this point. It’s something that we need to be taking very seriously and goes beyond just Adrian and Ray Rice. As a union, it’s something that needs to be taken seriously and addressed soon, because it’s not right. There needs to be a set of rules that people follow and stand behind.”
At the heart of the question is the ability for a corporation like the NFL to impose sanctions on employees. Felton believes that the NFL and the players association need to stop the gridlock that has bogged down issues pertaining to the union and work together, as opposed to making decisions without having a firm policy in place.
Part of his frustration is that management is looking at making pre-emptive strikes against players, such as was the discussion surrounding San Francisco defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was rumored to be facing a suspension despite charges not even being filed – charges that never came because they were dropped late last week.
“I heard they wanted to take Ray McDonald from the field and there haven’t even been charges filed,” Felton said. “I think there needs to be a set of rules. The NFL and the NFLPA need to get together – obviously with the mid-term elections you can talk about bipartisanship. That’s what needs to be going on right now – reaching across the aisle. Hopefully that will get done, because right now what’s going on, the climate is disturbing from a player’s point of view. Hopefully it gets addressed.”
Corporate politics aside, Felton is hopeful that Peterson can return to the Vikings sooner than later because, as the team attempts to make a push to become a playoff team with a strong finish to the regular season, it’s hard to argue that the Vikings wouldn’t be a better football team with A.P. than without him.
He’s mindful of the backlash that the Peterson case brought to the Vikings and the emotional response it brought from not only a significant segment of the fan base but the Vikings corporate sponsors and partners who have distanced themselves from the organization in the wake of the charges being filed against Peterson.
To Felton, A.P. is a co-worker and a very skilled co-worker. He wants to see the process finalized so they can both get back to doing what they do best. He knows it will take time for Peterson to re-acclimate himself with his teammates and the new offensive scheme, but he doesn’t think it would take long for Peterson to get back to the form Vikings fans have become so accustomed to seeing on the field on Sundays.
“He didn’t play all preseason a couple of years ago and went for 2,000 (yards),” Felton said. “You want him to get in some sort of comfort zone with the guys and he’s been away for some time. There’s a lot he’ll have to get – making sure he knows the plays and knows the protections. Those are things we’ll have to deal with when he comes back. But he is a veteran, he is Adrian Peterson, so I think he’ll be alright.”
All he needs now is the opportunity to return. Whether he’s given that opportunity remains to be seen.
Felton frustrated with NFL’s handling of A.P.
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