Sunday slant: Peterson gets support of stars

Adrian Peterson’s teammates have spoken numerous times about their support of him, but NFL stars of the present and past also believe he has been punished enough by the NFL.

After a couple questions about Teddy Bridgewater, popular New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was asked for his impressions on the state of affairs with Adrian Peterson’s legal challenges to his suspension.

Brees admitted he hadn’t been paying close attention to Peterson’s situation specifically, but after being brought up to speed on Peterson’s legal battle, one being waged through the NFL Players Association, a couple sentences into his answer about the relationship between the NFL and the players, Brees was stopped by a public relations assistant looking to get him off to a celebration at a Super Bowl event. Brees stopped the woman immediately and stressed the need for the players’ voice to be heard.

“No, it’s OK, this is important,” Brees told the woman before quickly returning to his opinion about how the NFL has overstepped its bounds in disciplining players.

“The only thing I’d say that I wish the NFL would do more of is include the NFL Players Association and include the players in those decisions because I feel like in so many cases those decisions are made by them, discipline is made by them,” Brees said. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop. It’s judge, jury and executioner right there. There’s no third party, mutual involvement. There’s no Players Association involvement. It just seems awfully one-sided all the time, so I wish they’d do a better job of communicating and allowing for others to have a say in it.”

Peterson, unfortunately, has become an important pawn in the high-stakes legal and public-perceptions game between the NFL and the union.

It appears Peterson has become the chosen case for the NFL to flex its muscle and attempt to repair a public image that was battered badly because of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. At first, Goodell treated the Rice case with kid gloves, giving him a two-game suspension. But the infamous elevator video showing Rice knocking out his fiancée at the time (and now his wife) caused a public backlash on the league. Goodell Monday Morning Quarterbacks the situation after that, reacting by issuing an indefinite suspension for Rice. Goodell was slapped back into reality by an independent court that overturned the suspension and called for Rice’s immediate reinstatement. Nobody really wins in that situation, but after the criticism the union had taken for signing the collective bargaining agreement in 2011 that gave the commissioner broad disciplinary power, it was the first sign that there could be some successful pushback on his seemingly autonomous authority.

The criticism of Goodell has been persistent since the Rice incident and at his Super Bowl press conference he tried to advance the idea that he learned a dose of humility, but said he has no plans to re-sign or be fired by the owners.

“It’s been a tough year on me personally. It’s been a year of what I would say is humility and learning,” Goodell said. “We, obviously as an organization, have gone through adversity. More importantly, it’s been adversity for me. We take that seriously. It’s an opportunity for us to get better. It’s an opportunity for us, for our organization, to get better. We’ve all done a lot of soul searching, starting with yours truly. We have taken action. A lot of the concerns that we had back in August where we didn’t have a policy that addressed a very complex issue, we didn’t have answers for that. We didn’t fully understand those issues. Now we have experts in the field. They’re in our office. They’re helping us understand this.”

Still, Goodell and the league remained with their heels firmly entrenched in their six-game suspension of Peterson and that isn’t sitting well with the NFLPA, Peterson, his teammates and even players that have no vested interest in his seeing his return to the field.

“The guy should be back playing football. That’s the only opinion I have,” said Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith.

“I haven’t followed it that closely, but I still think the man should be on the football field. He’s been suspended already a whole year so there’s no need to be relying on the court system. I think a decision needs to be made by the league, bottom line.”

Actually, the league made its decision and that decision indicated that Peterson missing most of the 2014 season wasn’t enough. They wanted to legislate counseling for him, too, before deciding sometime after April 15 if it would eligible for reinstatement.

The timing, and mandating counseling, naturally doesn’t sit well with the NFLPA or Peterson. The union is arguing that the NFL doesn’t have the authority to force Peterson into counseling, even though the NFLPA says he is already in counseling. It is also arguing that because Peterson’s disciplining of his 4-year-old son that led to him pleading no contest to reckless assault occurred in May, the NFL shouldn’t be allowed to apply the stricter standards of the new personal conduct policy that was adapted in the fall.

The best Peterson might be able to hope for is his immediate reinstatement into the league, which would help both him and the Vikings figure out his future. He said after his hearing on Friday that “of course” he wants to return to the team, and head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have voiced their support for his return.

But Peterson’s case goes beyond the football offices and, like the NFL found out, public perception can influence decisions. So Peterson and the Vikings would have to figure out if he would return, and, if so, would that happen under a reworked contract?

There are numerous hurdles for Peterson to clear to return to the Vikings before they have to make other roster decisions – free agency starts on March 10 and the draft starts on April 30 – but it’s clear the support for him to get back on the field without restrictions in 2015 is growing from circles even outside the Vikings.

“I would say that with the Ray Rice situation and with Adrian Peterson’s situation, regardless of how you feel about it – whether you feel like he is just a father disciplining his child or whether he went too far or whatever, I don’t think the NFL really had policies in place for that kind of thing,” Brees said. “So how do you determine what punishment is for that after the fact and you don’t have a policy in place? This is uncharted territory in many ways for the NFL, so it seems like they’re trying to seek the advice of people within that realm to try to figure out exactly the best way to handle those situations, the best way to incorporate discipline.”

The best way is to put the Peterson situation behind them in quick fashion, something that Judge David Doty could do in the coming weeks. At that point, it’s time for Peterson to have his own options and quit being used as a statement piece by the NFL and the union.

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