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Adrian Peterson: Arbitration, Court Files & Fishing Waders

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Whether you condone the abuse Adrian Peterson perpetrated on his child or not, at this time, he needs to be on the playing field. That's not an opinion, it's a fact.

The “at this time,” in the first sentence is key. Let’s focus on that phrase for a minute.

At this time, Adrian Peterson no longer has a criminal case pending. At this time, Peterson is an NFL player who the NFL is evaluating for possible discipline.

Is the NFL going to discipline Peterson? Of course. That’s not the question. The question is, when will the NFL discipline Peterson?

The NFLPA gave the NFL a self-imposed deadline of Monday at 5:00 p.m. to remove Peterson from the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List. The NFL failed to meet the deadline and the NFLPA promptly filed a non-injury grievance on Peterson’s behalf the same day.

Article 43 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement governs non-injury grievances. Section 4 of Article 43 indicates that a hearing on a grievance filed by a suspended player “will be held by an arbitrator...within seven (7) days of the filing of the grievance.”

Peterson’s grievance hearing is schedule for Monday, November 17, the day after Minnesota’s Week 11 tilt with Chicago, which makes it seem like the setting of hearing complies with the CBA. It only seems that way.

The NFLPA and NFL included the following language in Section 4: “The NFLPA and NFL will engage in good faith efforts to schedule grievances...prior to the Club’s next scheduled game.” Peterson’s hearing should’ve been scheduled prior to Sunday. It’s baffling that Peterson’s camp allowed otherwise.

And that’s just setting the hearing, not getting the final decision.

Section 4 instructs the arbitrator to issue a decision “within five (5) days of the completion of the hearing.” Of course, the decision could be sooner, including the arbitrator ruling at the hearing itself. I’ve served as an arbitrator on several cases and, if thoroughly prepared for the hearing, am ready to rule at the hearing.

More than likely, the arbitrator in Peterson’s case, Shyam Das, will render a decision a day or two following the hearing. But what, exactly, will Das be ruling on?

Das won’t be ruling on whether Peterson is suspended for being found guilty in his criminal proceedings—it’s simpler than that.

Das will only be deciding whether Peterson is to remain on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List or not. A September 18 letter from Roger Goodell was used to put Peterson on the Exempt List.  That letter stated Peterson would be on the list “until the criminal charges pending against [Peterson] are adjudicated.”

There are no criminal charges pending against Peterson at this time. The language used in the September 18 letter no longer applies and Peterson should be removed from the Exempt List. 

Had the NFL included the language, “until the criminal charges are adjudicated and Peterson is disciplined by the league,” there would be no argument—Peterson would stay on the list until the league disciplined him. But the league didn’t use that language and only hinged Peterson remaining on the list based on pending criminal charges. Those charges no longer exist—they have converted into a conviction. 

FALLOUT OF PETERSON BEING TAKEN OFF COMMISSIONER’S LIST

Peterson being taken off the Exempt List will trigger a fierce, three-way battle between Peterson, the NFL and the Vikings.

The moment Peterson is removed from the list, he will be situated as any other NFL player: an active, non-disciplined player. That means, he gets to engage in all of the regular team activities as any other Vikings player would—there would be no NFL-imposed restrictions on his access to practice and play. The NFL would then be forced to dole out Peterson’s punishment immediately—the public would demand as much.

If the NFL suspends Peterson pursuant to the new domestic violence policy and gives him “time served” for the time he spent on the Exempt List, the matter will be resolved, at least for the NFL. The Vikings’ would then be forced to play their hand.

Any NFL discipline that puts Peterson on the field in the 2014 league year will put immeasurable pressure on Vikings brass. As I explained here, the more critical question looming for Peterson is what the Vikings will do with him, not the NFL.

As the Vikings showed earlier in the year, they are controlled by the court of public opinion when they deactivated, activated and then deactivated Peterson within a matter of days. It’s no stretch to say the public and sponsors will have a major say in Peterson’s fate. This is especially true as sponsorships waiver and the public (who the Vikings are relying heavily upon to build their new stadium) demands its pound of Peterson’s flesh.

Over the next few days Peterson’s case will take several turns, some which will suggest he won’t play this year and some that will hint at a Week 12 return. But at this time, Peterson’s legal case is resolved and he has yet to be disciplined by the NFL—that means he should be at practice and preparing for Week 11, no matter how you feel about his “parenting.” It’s simple: NFL players get in trouble but continue to play until they are told not to, e.g., Le'Veon Bell. The NFL has not told Peterson he is suspended, so he should be playing.

Instead, Peterson will lose the opportunity to play in Week 11 because of Goodell’s stall tactics and inability to competently discipline players.

All of this could’ve been avoided if the NFL had already conducted a competent investigation and was prepared to discipline Peterson at the conclusion of his legal proceedings.

What Goodell has done, instead, is use phony excuses to stall the imposition of Peterson’s discipline. One of those excuses is that Goodell wants to see the court file in Peterson’s case prior to grounding Peterson.

There’s so much bullsh*t in that last sentence that I had to borrow my brother’s fishing waders prior to writing it.

PETERSON’S COURT FILE

It appears the NFL is doing the exact opposite of what it did with respect to the Ray Rice case: it wants to gather all the evidence prior to making a decision. Sounds nice, but it only appears that way.

The judge in Peterson’s case sealed the record so no one is going to see it. Of course, Peterson can ask the judge if his employer could see the file, which the judge would surely grant.

But the court file is entirely irrelevant in this case.

The case against Peterson lasted 51 days from indictment to plea agreement. It takes longer to develop a habit than it did to resolve Peterson's case. His court file is minimal, thinner than the MacBook Air you're using right now.

Peterson's court file has an indictment, minute entries from the court hearings, stock pleadings that were undoubtedly filed by the State and little else. Those stock pleadings deal with notices that the State complied with disclosure rules and notices that Peterson will be impeached if he testifies.

The items that are vital for the NFL to review prior to disciplining Peterson are as follows: medical reports from the child’s doctor, statements of the child’s mother, Peterson and any other person who was interviewed, the police reports, photographs of the child’s wounds and the actual switch that was used to hit the child.

None of the items listed above will be found in the court file. Those items don’t become part of the record unless there is a trial, and then they become exhibits, not a part of the court file. There’s a difference.

All of the items listed could be reviewed by Peterson’s employer (the NFL) even though the judge sealed the court file because those items aren’t in the court file.

And is there any reasonable doubt that Roger Goodell has already read the several statements made by Peterson, along with reading the text messages Peterson sent to the child’s mother? Peterson’s statements and text messages were plastered on just about every sports website and all across ESPN for days. And if you Google anything related to Peterson these days, images of his child’s wounds are ever-present.

So the NFL has a finding of guilt, Peterson’s statements and text messages, images of the child abuse and access to the police reports. But they want to see the court file before imposing discipline, which has none of that.

The NFL has what it needs to render appropriate discipline for Peterson. Goodell is balking because he has become gun-shy after the Ray Rice debacle exposed him as incompetent in these highly publicized situations.

Looks like I’m gonna need a scuba suit...my brother’s waders won’t cut it when trudging through the NFL’s crap.

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Cedric Hopkins

Cedric Hopkins Bio

Cedric Hopkins runs this sports law/fantasy football blog. If you have issues with it, it's all his fault. Cedric was an athlete-student at the University of New Mexico (Basketball - Go Lobos!). He then morphed into a student-athlete when he attended law school in San Diego. Age replaced athleticism and now he writes appellate briefs for criminals (alleged criminals, of course) in state and federal cases, including writing U.S. Supreme Court briefs.

For years Cedric has researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, he's combining his two passions: researching and writing about sports. When he's not in court arguing a case before a judge (or writing about himself in the third person), he'll be doing the same with his articles on FieldandCourt.com. Follow me, er, him on Twitter (opens in a new window).

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Cedric Hopkins

Cedric Hopkins runs this sports law/fantasy football blog. If you have issues with it, it's all his fault. Cedric was an athlete-student at the University of New Mexico (Basketball - Go Lobos!). He then morphed into a student-athlete when he attended law school in San Diego. Age replaced athleticism and now he writes appellate briefs for criminals (alleged criminals, of course) in state and federal cases, including writing U.S. Supreme Court briefs.

For years Cedric has researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, he's combining his two passions: researching and writing about sports. When he's not in court arguing a case before a judge (or writing about himself in the third person), he'll be doing the same with his articles on FieldandCourt.com. Follow me, er, him on Twitter (opens in a new window).