Yotter: Peterson is pawn in NFL, NFLPA match

Adrian Peterson created his mess, but at this point he is nothing more than a pawn in a high-stakes chess match between the NFL and the players union.

A.P. Adrian Peterson. All Pawn.

Peterson created a monumental mess. For his career and for his life, by his own actions. Ultimately, when he hurt one of his 4-year-old sons with a switch, and then admitted it to a grand jury over the summer, it was the beginning of the end for Peterson’s purple reign as the inspirational athlete widely admire in Minnesota, Texas and states in between and all around.

Make no mistake: Peterson wouldn’t be in this predicament without his actions with his son. As one of Peterson’s former on-field nemeses, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita pointed out on Twitter: “Flawed policies aside, there’s a simple fix to all this. To a small handful of players: Stop doing dumb (stuff).”

But also within Fujita’s tweet is another grain of truth. There are flawed policies and politics in place. Peterson needed celebrity lawyer Rusty Hardin to work his initial felony charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child down to a misdemeanor no-contest plea of reckless assault. But once Peterson said goodbye to Hardin and hello to the NFL Players Association, he because a pawn in a game of stubborn chess between the NFL and the players union.

The NFL has been wielding its power for decades, to the point that players and agents alike admit the union was checkmated into submission during the lockout of 2011. Now players are left with a Collective Bargaining Agreement that leaves the NFL commissioner ruler and arbitrator on cases like Peterson. When the NFL requested a meeting with Peterson last week and Peterson, with no doubt stern convincing from the NFLPA, declined to attend because the league was requesting something “new and inconsistent with the CBA,” it had all the markings of the union ready to dig in its heels for “the cause” as much as it was Peterson.

Peterson has always wanted to return to the field as quickly as possible in pursuit of NFL records, hoping that his no contest plea would keep some semblance of a clean image intact while allowing him to play yet this year. Instead, when the plea was accepted and the court records sealed, it left the NFL requesting a meeting with Peterson, and Peterson, with advice from the union, declining that invitation. And then Peterson requesting a private meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Since Peterson, on advice from the union, turned down the NFL’s request, the league denied Peterson’s request. You get where this is going, right?

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins encapsulated the situation succinctly, accurately and vividly.

“There is a strong odor of urine against a tree trunk in Roger Goodell’s statement on #AdrianPeterson. Marking territory,” Jenkins tweeted.

Jenkins is (yellow) spot on.

The NFL is saying if Peterson won’t play figurative, legal ball with them, then he won’t play literal ball in their league. Not, at least, this year. Perhaps, not ever – the final sentence in the league’s announcement of Peterson’s suspension said he could be subject to banishment from the league if another violation occurs.

But, of course, there will be lawyers. There will be consultants. There will be psychologists, and there will be delay and posturing at every turn.

“Litigation on some level is inevitable,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Pro Football Talk.

On some level? How about every level. There already has been and there will continue to be.

Peterson had his conference call with an arbitrator about his position on the Commissioner’s Exempt List on Monday. Less than 24 hours later, the league suspended him for “at least” the rest of the 2014 season and said it will review his progress on April 15. Even more quickly, within 20 minutes, the NFLPA responded saying it will appeal the suspension.

The lawyers continue to be set in motion as the NFLPA smells an opportunity to try to weaken the commissioner’s power with the personal conduct policy.

Peterson is simply a pawn in that decades-old battle between the league and the players union. His case sets the precedent for players like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and others that will inevitably will do “dumb (stuff)” in the future.

Meanwhile, the Vikings sit quietly in the corner, unable to or, possibly, unwilling to do anything. Any move or statement they make could be construed as wrong … by their fans, by their players, or by their sponsors.

“At this point, I’ve resolved my matter in the criminal court; I’ve worked to make amends for what I’ve done; I’ve missed most of the season, and I stand ready to be candid and forthcoming with Mr. Goodell about what happened,” Peterson said in his statement, issued through the NFLPA, on Sunday. “However, I will not allow the NFL to impose a new process of discipline on me, ignore the CBA, ignore the deal they agreed to with me, and behave without fairness or accountability.”

Ultimately, Peterson may have to meet with the league, as the league requested and he declined, through the union. And as he requested and the league declined.

The NFL says it wants to be sure that Peterson understands the seriousness of his actions with his son and wants assurances that it won’t happen again. The only way for that to happen is for him to personally convince them/Goodell of that. Peterson’s actions created the mess and now he has to take control of it himself with unbiased legal help.

Get your popcorn and your lawyers ready. This going to be a long chess match and Peterson the pawn is just hoping to keep in the game.

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