NFLPA continues Peterson’s fight in court

The NFLPA and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson were in court to contest his suspension, despite the resumption of his career.

Adrian Peterson was reinstated by the NFL in April. He rejoined the Minnesota Vikings in June. He even got a new contract in July, with the guaranteed money he was seeking.

From the league’s view, then, there should be no further dispute about the application of the personal conduct policy related to Peterson’s punishment last season. The situation turned out all right for the star running back, now that he’s back on the field.

For the NFL Players Association, there are still legal problems in play. The union argues Peterson should be paid back the millions he lost during what amounted to a six-game suspension, and the league has defied the federal judge in charge of the case.

NFLPA and NFL lawyers traded arguments Wednesday in front of U.S. District Judge David Doty on the union’s contempt of court motion that was filed in May.

NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler told Doty such a move was necessary to push the NFL to send Peterson’s suspension appeal back to arbitration, as ordered by Doty in February. Kessler asked Doty to require the NFL and the NFLPA to jointly ask arbitration officer Harold Henderson for a new ruling, in addition to awarding the union appropriate attorney fees.

The lead lawyer for the league, Dan Nash, responded by accusing the union of deceptively using Peterson’s example to stage a larger fight over the personal conduct policy, the application of which became a flash point in labor relations last year amid a series of high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players.

Peterson badly injured his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch he said he used for disciplinary purposes. He had the charge reduced to a misdemeanor, avoiding jail time in Texas, but he missed 15 of 16 games due to the fallout. Most of that was paid leave, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the suspension with six games left on Minnesota’s schedule. Peterson’s appeal was denied by Henderson three weeks later.

The union immediately petitioned the court to vacate Henderson’s ruling. Doty agreed. The NFL turned to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which likely won’t hear the case until October. Henderson has not taken any action. Kessler said the league “never made any effort” to re-arbitrate the appeal by Peterson for a reduced suspension.

The crux of the union’s complaint has been that Peterson’s son was hurt several months prior to Goodell’s announcement of a tougher personal conduct policy, which called for suspensions of six games instead of two games for players involved with domestic violence.

“He can’t get those games back that he improperly missed, but at least he can get back the pay,” Kessler said.

Added Kessler: “If he could give back the money and play the games, I bet he would do that.”

Peterson nodded.

The NFLPA has referenced Henderson’s reduction of current Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four games in written arguments, and Doty implored Kessler to stick to the Peterson case. On the contempt motion, Doty questioned its necessity, calling it “small ball,” and its practicality, remarking that Goodell is not a lawyer.

“Do you want me to put the Commissioner in jail?” Doty said. “You don’t have to answer that question. That was a rhetorical question.”

Doty pointedly questioned Nash, though, about the NFL’s inaction on his order. Kessler said the league has been stalling, simply waiting for the appeals court ruling.

In citing past comments by Goodell in the press related to his authority under the collective bargaining agreement, Doty questioned whether Goodell “understands there is a CBA.” The 86-year-old Doty has frequently ruled for the players in NFL labor proceedings before him over the last three decades.

Nash told Doty the league has not told Henderson to wait for the appeals court decision. He said the NFL has not violated the judge’s order and that the league was “shocked” by the filing of the contempt motion.

“We had every reason to believe there was no dispute,” Nash said.

Goodell was not at the hearing.

Peterson took advantage of his proximity to the courthouse and spent the day downtown, missing practice with the team at its suburban headquarters about 15 miles away. He walked into the room a few minutes late. After Doty took the arguments under advisement, Peterson and the legal teams for both sides went down five floors for settlement talks in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron. She ordered the mediation session in July.

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