Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vikings Almost Certainly Attempting to Trade Peterson

When the NFL decided to levy what amounted to a season-long ban on Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson, most of the public took the action for what it was--an attempt to resurrect the league's tarnished image in the face of its darkly comical handling of Ray Rice's beating of his girlfriend.  Peterson's suspension raised some eyebrows, but the more vocal crowd included thos those who believed that all abuse is identical and all abuse requires the abuser to forever adorn a scarlet letter.

In its never-ending sense of entitlement, the NFL made the nearly unthinkable a reality, however, greatly shifting the discussion regarding Peterson's general predicament.  By essentially claiming the right to punish any player to any degree for almost any offense--and then imposing such a philosophy when suspending Peterson without pay for the remainder of the 2014 season and, possibly, into the 2015 season--the NFL made a sympathetic figure of the running back.  The league only broadened sympathy for Peterson by hiring a close personal friend of league commissioner, Roger Goodell, to review Goodell's punishment.  Not surprisingly, that friend, long beholden to the NFL for his livelihood, found the punishment warranted and permissible under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

Then real people entered the debate--specifically, Judge David Doty of the U.S. Federal Circuit.  In some quarters--particularly those frequented by entities that have contempt for the rights of others--Doty is viewed as a rubber stamp of player requests for relief.  In other quarters--particularly those frequented by those who accept governing principles of law--Doty is the voice of reason.  In response to Peterson's request for relief, Doty obliged, reasoning that the league clearly concocted a penalty for Peterson to meet PR pressures in the aftermath of the Ray Rice debacle.  Doty hammered the league for failing to abide by any measure of due process and remanded the case to the arbitrator to make determinations consistent with the Court's findings.

Through Doty's ruling, Peterson appeared to be vindicated--not for his treatment of his son, but for the NFL's handling of his offense.  Peterson expressed as much on the courthouse steps.  Had he left it there, the NFL's roughshod approach to dealing with PR nightmares would have remained the focus.

But if Adrian has shown anything throughout this entire process, it is that he is not a particularly insightful individual. Rather than accept his victory over the league, Peterson decided publicly to express his dissatisfaction with the way the Vikings responded to his situation.  In Peterson's mind, the Vikings were not squarely enough in his corner.  What that means is not exactly clear.  What Peterson is suggesting, however, is that the Vikings should have publicly approved of his switching of his son.  Needless to say, the Vikings did not do that.  Nor, for that matter, did the Vikings offer much in the way of public expression.  Nor, probably, would any other team in the NFL--outside, perhaps, Carolina and/or San Francisco.

Even with such infantile behavior, Peterson might still have emerged as a martyr in the eyes of an NFL public increasingly weary of many of the NFL's antics, but neither Peterson nor his agent appeared capable either of understanding or capitalizing on that possibility.  Instead, both through his agent and in public appearances, Peterson continues to maintain that the Vikings somehow have wronged him.  It's one thing to let others decide that you are the victim of unjust conduct.  It's quite another to attempt to lead the public perception on that front, particularly in the wake of child abuse.  Whatever was going to fly--because of the NFL's behavior and Peterson's celebrity status--now stands virtually no chance of prevailing.

That would be bad enough for Peterson, in Minnesota or in any other NFL city.  But Peterson and his agent are now perilously close to ensuring that Peterson turns from tenuously justified martyr to unequivocal pariah.  And the Vikings seem to be reading the writing on the wall.

The Vikings hold most of the chips in their dealings with Peterson.  They have him under contract through the 2017 season.  They have cap room to deal with his hefty cap hits in each of the next three seasons.  And, even after 2017, the Vikings can franchise Peterson, if they choose.  All of which means that, if they so chose, the Vikings could force Peterson to essentially finish his career in Minnesota.

Despite the leverage, however, the Vikings appear virtually certain to trade Peterson before the beginning of the NFL season, and possibly even before the NFL entry draft in April.  The Vikings' current position is an iteration of the above--that they hold the cards and look forward to Peterson's return in 2015.  The unofficial position, however, is that Peterson has become so toxic, that keeping him, no matter the returns on the field, are not worth the aggravation or cost.

Peterson's agent acknowledged as much yesterday, sending out public "confirmation" that the Vikings had "no plan to release Peterson."  Peterson's agent has been hard at work for over a month, attempting to work a trade of Peterson.  For that agent to publicly state that the Vikings have no interest in releasing Peterson only makes sense if the agent is attempting to convince a possible trading partner to pull the trigger on a deal, rather than wait for the Vikings to release Peterson.  And the comment itself would only make sense if the Vikings were in coordinated efforts with Peterson's agent to move Peterson.

Up Next:  Why The Vikings Will Improve With or Without Peterson.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This Isn't the Soviet Union, Is It?

With Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson still awaiting a hearing on his appeal of his full-season suspension, debates over whether the NFL's punishment of Peterson was too severe or not severe enough continue.  Were this merely a matter of a punishment for a player, those debates could be relegated to the circular file.

Peterson's situation is about more than Peterson, however.  It is, more substantially, about whether a major sports league,  afforded significant anti-trust exemptions by Congress, should have the authority to levy penalties against players without meaningful due process.

Those who believe that the NFL has acted justly in Peterson's case are willing to accept the NFL's one-year banishment of Peterson as within the bounds of the NFL's discretion under the current CBA.  Given that the NFL's self-stated, non-negotiated policy on first-offense domestic abuse conduct subjects a player to a six-game suspension, with the possibility of upward revision given aggravating circumstances, it is difficult to accept that a minimum fifteen week suspension, some without pay, is not excessive--unless one believes that aggravating circumstances were present in this case and that those circumstances merited a near tripling, if not more, of the league's baseline punishment.

Those in this latter group, a group that persists in reminding everyone that Peterson was paid for the eight games that he missed prior to the league's decision to ban him for the year, appear willing to turn a blind eye to meaningful due process.  One suspects that these same people would hope for due process in all of their own affairs, but, for whatever reason, in Peterson's case, it's not only fair but obligatory that the Peterson not be accorded such rights.

What those who celebrate the NFL's purported tough stance against child abuse and even call for stronger sanctions against Peterson do not offer is a rationale for their position.  It is not enough to argue that what Peterson did was a bad thing.  Most agree it was.  The question is what the appropriate league punishment should be, given that he did a bad thing.  To argue that Peterson rested at home and received a paycheck while on the NFL Commissioner's special exemption list is not a thoughtful response to the the suggestion that the NFL could simply retroactively fine Peterson.  Moreover, if suspending Peterson with pay was not a punishment and retroactively fining him is not punishment, it does not follow that suspending him for the remainder of the season could constitute punishment.

Punishment is defined with respect to the means that the relevant arbiter wields.  In the criminal court system, there are many means for imposing punishment--fine, jail time, prison time, community service, restitution, counseling, etc.  The Texas court system imposed on Peterson a fine, community service, and counseling requirements.

The NFL has only two meaningful means at its avail for punishing players--suspending and taking pay from the player.  For those looking for the NFL to do more, that's not possible.  As such, for those who argue that retroactive fines for games which Peterson already sat out are meaningless because Peterson was not previously suspended without pay, the argument is unintelligible.

Nearly everyone agrees that the NFL could have handled this situation much more deftly from the very beginning.  What few agree on is how that could have been done.  Here is one suggestion that might work as a template in the future:

At the outset, notify the player that they are suspended immediately, without pay, for a minimum of six games, subject to additional games should aggravating circumstances come to light at any time.  Offer a definition of aggravating circumstances.  Commit one-half of the pay taken from the player to a credible non-profit that deals with the abuse that occurred.  Put the remainder of the pay in a trust fund for the victim.  Then, hire an outside arbitrator to hear any appeal.  Finally, work out a mutually agreeable code of conduct with the NFLPA, before the present CBA expires, and take advantage of the NFLPA's current exposure and the  need for the NFL to repair its due process neglecting fence.

Had the NFL given anywhere near as much initial thought to how to handle either the Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson situations, it could have avoided the circus that it has now created by making decisions from the seat of its proverbial pants without respect to normal notions of due process and with an eye squarely and exclusively on the league's image.  Rather than rebuild its tarnished image, the NFL's current course has only generated greater animosity toward the league from virtually every corner.