A federal judge has sided with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and lifted the indefinite suspension NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed out last year. Peterson will be reinstated to the Vikings, though it’s not clear if he will stay with the team.
Judge David Doty ruled Thursday that Goodell was wrong to retroactively apply a “new” personal conduct policy to Peterson for an incident of child abuse that occurred before the policy went into effect. This is the second victory for the NFLPA in appealing Goodell’s arbitrary and cynical system for disciplining players. In November, a different judge lifted former Ravens running back Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, another penalty handed down by Goodell as a show of "zero-tolerance" for abuse it had long tolerated, and he was reinstated to the league.
The judge in Rice’s case found that Goodell effectively punished Rice twice for the same crime. (This makes sense because that’s precisely what Goodell did after additional video of the assault was leaked.) This time around, Doty found that Goodell had inappropriately applied the leagues “tougher” domestic violence policy to Peterson even though the old standards should have applied. (For more on why the new policy is not actually new and why Goodell always had the power to level harsh penalties, you can read this from Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky.)
Peterson pleaded no contest back in November to misdemeanor assault. He had initially been charged with felony child abuse, but was given the reduced charge as part of a plea deal. Later that month, Goodell suspended Peterson indefinitely. In a statement on the suspension, Goodell wrote that “aggravating circumstances” warranted a higher level of discipline.
Goodell’s handling of the Rice and Peterson cases was a flailing, cynical mess from the start. The NFL has a domestic violence problem. (So does America.) It has long known this and done nothing to address it. The current and former wives and girlfriends of players have spoken publicly about the NFL's indifference toward violence and its willingness to silence victims to protect its bottom line. And as Dave Zirin has pointed out many times over, 56 players were arrested for domestic violence during Goodell’s tenure. The collective number of games suspended? Thirteen.
Goodell got “tough” on domestic violence to consolidate his own power and rehab the NFL's image. Sponsors were getting nervous and being seen as a safe haven for abusers of all sorts was beginning to turn some fans off. But it appears that nothing in the NFL has meaningfully changed, even as Goodell claims the moral high road. Having more power over his players may make Goodell feel good, but it does nothing to protect victims.