Peterson suspended for remainder of season

UPDATED: The NFL suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for “at least” the rest of the 2014 season. He is appealing the decision.

The NFL suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for “at least” the rest of the 2014 season without pay on Tuesday morning, but an independent arbitrator ruled Tuesday afternoon that Peterson can remain on the Commissioner’s Exempt List during his appeal, meaning Peterson will continue to get paid during the appeals process.

Peterson would be eligible for reinstatement on April 15 if his appeal is unsuccessful. The NFL handed down the ruling on Tuesday morning, saying Peterson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy stemming from his child abuse case in Texas. Peterson was indicted on a felony charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child in September and pleaded no contest to a less charge of misdemeanor reckless assault on Nov. 4.

“The timing of your potential reinstatement will be based on the results of the counseling and treatment program set forth in this decision,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to Peterson. “Under this two-step approach, the precise length of the suspension will depend on your actions. We are prepared to put in place a program that can help you to succeed, but no program can succeed without your genuine and continuing engagement. You must commit yourself to your counseling and rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy.”

A hearing will be scheduled “promptly” for Peterson’s appeal, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He will remain on the Commissioner’s Exempt List during that process, but with the NFL Players Association seeking an independent hearing agent, the appeals process isn’t likely to be resolved soon.

“The decision by the NFL to suspend Adrian Peterson is another example of the credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take,” the NFL Players Association said in a release announcing Peterson’s appeal. “Since Adrian’s legal matter was adjudicated, the NFL has ignored their obligations and attempted to impose a new and arbitrary disciplinary proceeding.”

In modifying the personal conduct policy on Aug. 28, Goodell established a baseline discipline of a suspension without pay for six games for certain offenses, including a first offense of assault, battery, or domestic violence, but also identified “aggravating circumstances” that would warrant higher levels of discipline.

“The injury was inflicted on a child who was only 4 years old. The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant, and your actions clearly caused physical injury to the child,” Goodell wrote in his letter to Peterson. “While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse – to flee, to fight back, or to seek help from law enforcement – none of those options is realistically available to a 4-year old child. Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.

“Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete.

“Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct. When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids’ and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child’s mother. You also said that you felt ‘very confident with my actions because I know my intent.’ These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future.”

The NFL said the personal conduct policy allows for additional discipline despite Peterson’s “deferred adjudication” in his case.

The league requested that Peterson and the NFL Players Association furnish “a range of information that would be relevant to evaluating Peterson’s conduct under the Personal Conduct Policy.” But lawyers involved with Peterson’s criminal case on both sides said they didn’t believe they could supply that information because Judge Kelly Case sealed the court file as soon as he accepted Peterson’s plea.

Still, the NFL cited reports that included statements from Peterson to the grand jury and photographs of his 4-year-old son after disciplining as evidence in the suspension.

“Based on public reports of your statements and photographs that were made public at the time of the indictment, you used a ‘switch’ – a flexible tree branch – to punish your son, striking him in the ankles, limbs, back, buttocks, and genitals, leaving visible swelling, marks, and cuts on his body and risking severe and long-term damage,” Goodell wrote in his letter to Peterson. “The visible injuries were such that a local pediatrician in Minnesota, upon examining your son, felt obligated to make a child abuse report to the police. According to contemporaneous media reports, police and medical examiners termed the cuts as ‘extensive’ and as ‘clinically diagnostic of child physical abuse.’ … Moreover, it appears that this is not the first time that you have punished children in this way. Public statements attributed to you indicate that you believe that this kind of discipline is appropriate and that you do not intend to stop disciplining your children this way.”

Peterson was directed by the NFL to meet with Dr. April Kuchuk, an instructor in the NYU Department of Psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City District Attorney’s offices and New York courts, by Dec. 1. After that meeting, Dr. Kuchuk will design “a program of counseling, therapy, and community service as appropriate, which will be shared with the commissioner and NFLPA.”

Kuchuk informed the NFL she believes it is essential for her to meet with Peterson personally to review his counseling and other therapeutic work to date, according to the NFL, and Goodell encouraged Peterson to take advantage of the counseling and other resources available to his son through NFL Player Assistance and Counseling Services.

“The well-being of your children is of paramount concern,” Goodell wrote to Peterson. “In the absence of speaking to you to understand your current disposition toward child discipline, we cannot be sure that this conduct will not be repeated. Moreover, we are unaware of any effort on your part to acknowledge the seriousness of your conduct and your responsibility to demonstrate a genuine commitment to change.”

The NFL said it would establish periodic reviews of Peterson’s situation, starting on April 15. If Peterson fails to cooperate and follow the plan, “a lengthier suspension without pay” will result, the NFL said.

“It is imperative that you to avoid any incident of this kind in the future,” Goodell wrote. “Any further violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in additional discipline and may subject you to banishment from the NFL.”

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