Holler: Doty has issues to consider

The judge hearing arguments against Adrian Peterson’s suspension has interesting points from both sides of the aisle.

We may be bearing witness to one of the bigger landmark cases in recent judicial history in the NFL. What makes the Adrian Peterson case so legally fascinating is that a case can be made for both the NFL and the NFLPA that is compelling.

At the center of the controversy is Peterson’s disciplining of his 4-year-old son. When the news broke in September that Peterson had been indicted by a Texas court to face felony child abuse charges and photos of the result of the severity of the discipline went public, it was polarizing. Some expressed revulsion, including several sponsors that attached their names to Peterson, the Vikings or both. Several players spoke up saying that, in some parts of the country, that is a commonplace form of punishment.

The mythical court of public opinion had clearly drawn battle lines on the Peterson issue. But when it comes to the case against Peterson in Judge David Doty’s courtroom, the visceral emotions of parents and those who have been subjected to abuse matter not. It’s all about the point of law as it pertains to the workplace – a workplace where the boss makes $40 mil a year and the employee in question is scheduled to take down $13 million in 2015.

Not your typical “he said, he said” situation.

Judge Doty has significant arguments and legal contentions to sift through. In short, here are the bullet points of varying merit he will be weighing.


  • The NFL, under the collective bargaining agreement signed off on by the union, effectively gives Commissioner Roger Goodell broad policing powers. That’s going to be a tough nut to crack. The NFL made a decision that, if you read the CBA, is within their authority to do.

  • The case was heard by an arbitrator, which judges rarely rule against in collectively bargained management/union disputes. Out of 100 such cases, the number of overturned arbitrator’s rulings can be counted on a shop teacher’s hand.

  • The league created the Commissioner’s Exempt List to deal with criminal charges, allowing a player to continue to be paid, but unable to practice or play until his legal situation is settled. If a player is exonerated of all charges, he comes off the list and is reinstated. If he is found guilty of legal charges, he is subject to the league’s personal conduct policy and the ramifications that it brings. That may be the crux of the NFL’s case. After Peterson’s case was adjudicated, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges. But in the eyes of the NFL, a conviction is a conviction is a conviction. The local law enforcement got one in the win column, albeit reduced charges. As they say in the NFL, “a win is in win regardless of how you get it. Just ask New England.”


  • By the admission of just about everyone involved, the evolution of the personal conduct policy has been framed since video surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée after the NFL had levied a softball penalty. Caught with a system that wasn’t adequate to deal with that action, the NFL “went rogue” and started imposing unilateral revisions to the rules that weren’t collectively bargained.

  • As a rebuttal to the shop teacher’s hand approach to the ruling of an arbitrator, the veracity of the arbitrator in charge needs to be weighed in. I’ve given a nickname to the arbiter in question. That nickname is Triple H – Harold “Hip Pocket” Henderson. In his history of ruling on union/management issues, he has sided with the NFL about as often as the sun rises in the east. It’s hard to argue his track record. At least one of five dentists recommended sugared gum for patients who chew gum. Triple H’s track record is in the high 90th percentile, not the 80th percentile.

  • The NFL has set up an ongoing set of hurdles in front of Peterson, including the invocation of the obscure Commissioner’s Exempt List. In the days following the removal of Peterson, players from throughout the league expressed concerns that they had never seen that list imposed before. It was an ace in the hole for the NFL that those in the NFLPA viewed as a betrayal.

    As things currently stand, there is labor peace in the NFL. There have been incidents in the last couple years that have brought the two sides to a Cold War-style civil yet bitter peace. Depending on how Judge Doty decides, the next negotiation of a CBA has all the earmarks of getting ugly. Lawyers will make hundreds of millions of dollars. Next time, it’s a line item-by-line item battle.

    The ramifications of Adrian Peterson disciplining his child in a manner he saw fit could well become the Fort Sumter of the NFL/NFLPA Civil War.

    Get ready. When Judge Doty speaks, everyone is going to listen … and react accordingly.

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