Opinion: NFL wishy washiness must end, or leaders must go

Richie Mulhall is the sports editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Richie Mulhall

Less than two days after the Minnesota Vikings cleared star running back Adrian Peterson to play this weekend, the organization took a page out of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s book and went back its word, barring Peterson from practices and games as he deals with his arrest in Texas on domestic abuse charges.

The Vikings deactivated Peterson indefinitely Wednesday and placed him on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which requires Peterson to “abstain from team activities during his child abuse case,” according to USA Today.

For those who are unaware, Peterson has been accused of disciplining his 4-year-old son by beating him with a switch, or a small tree branch. A warrant was issued for Peterson’s arrest Friday and he was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

After the warrant was issued, Minnesota benched him for last Sunday’s game in which the Vikings lost to the New England Patriots.

The Vikings reinstated Peterson Monday for the team’s next game against the New Orleans Saints, but the decision to reverse the call was announced at 11 p.m. Wednesday after the organization came under intense scrutiny. The public criticized the team for sweeping Peterson’s actions under the rug and not taking an issue like domestic violence seriously. Sound familiar? It should.

The new controversy surrounding Peterson’s domestic violence case almost perfectly mirrors a similar domestic violence incident that has enveloped former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Sure, one situation involved beating a spouse and the other involved beating a child, but an innocent outsider looking in can’t help but draw comparisons between the two situations and notice the underlying parallels that connect the way respective administrators have handled them.

This column is not about child abuse. It’s not really about domestic abuse in general, either.

It’s about the NFL’s and Minnesota Vikings poor decision-making skills in dire circumstances.

Incidents pertaining to domestic violence and child abuse are serious matters that should be treated with the utmost care, sense of urgency and sensitivity.

The fact that the NFL and the Vikings can’t decide on repercussions for players who commit such heinous actions has caused many critics and fans alike to vote no confidence in the flighty way the NFL and sub-organizations handle these serious matters.

Goodell’s own handling of the Rice situation sparked a league-wide controversy and incited a national debate about how the league treats domestic violence cases.

Last week when TMZ leaked the elevator footage of Rice knocking out his then-fiancee — information we already knew existed that only added to our imagination of what really happened— Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely from the league.

Although indefinitely suspending Rice seemed like an appropriate response to a player who beat his wife, why didn’t Goodell make this ruling two months ago when he sentenced Rice to a two game suspension this season? I fail to see why video footage of Rice punching his then-fiancee in the elevator forced Goodell’s hand to override his original decision to suspend Rice for two games. Was the footage Goodell and the NFL allegedly had all this time really powerful enough to turn it into a full-fledged indefinite suspension? Goodell probably changed his mind to save his own skin, but I still fail to see how the click of a play button trumps the law.

Because Rice received the two-game penalty before the NFL revamped its domestic violence policy, his case should not fall under the jurisdiction of the new policy.

Legally under the new policy set in place, Goodell does not have the right or the authority to extend Rice’s suspension, which is why Rice and his lawyer appealed the new penalty, arguing that he should not be penalized twice for the same transgression. That would be double jeopardy and a serious breach of basic ethics on Goodell’s part. Goodell’s word usually means law in this NFL dictatorship, but this time he overstepped his bounds.

Legalese aside, though, Goodell’s handling, in conjunction with the manner in which the Vikings have handled Peterson’s penalties (and lack thereof), have led to a national uproar among politicians, women’s groups and advocates for victims of domestic violence. In the wake of these controversies, these advocates have called for Goodell’s resignation, and now the Vikings organization has fallen under a similar fire.

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who led the Vikings to several Super Bowls, told Fox News he was “embarrassed” by the team’s original decision to allow Peterson to play this upcoming Sunday.

These so-called “leaders” in sports have held themselves accountable for their blunders, but it’s always been after the fact.

“We made a mistake, and we needed to get this right,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said in a press conference Wednesday. The prepared statement  however provided no answers about how the team got the decision wrong in the first place.

This statement should sound familiar, too, as Goodell said virtually the same thing after he and the NFL dropped the ball with the Rice situation. Both situations have resulted in a common pattern of important leaders making a decision and then turning around afterward and reversing it.

So let me get this straight:  Goodell reversed his decision to only suspend Rice for two games because of gross public outrage over video footage, and the Vikings reversed their decision to play Peterson because the public disapproved of the original ruling? Since when did public outcry rule the NFL’s governing body? Since when did public opinion start calling the shots in the NFL?

When will these leaders make their own decisions, stick to their guns and stand by their verdicts? It’s high time these leaders step up and do the job they are paid to do. I don’t really care if Rice and Peterson play or not. Just make a decision.

Hopefully soon ESPN and angry Keith Olbermanns of the world will be able to return to a peacetime in which sports headlines are dominated by touchdowns and home runs, not cheap shots and right hooks.

As USG President Marvin Logan said in a column published a few days ago, “In recent weeks, the National Football League has received quite a bit of coverage for everything but football.” And he’s right. It feels like sports coverage is not about sports at all lately. It’s all about who got arrested or who hit whom today.

ESPN no longer feels like “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” but the worldwide leader in domestic violence, child abuse and administrative mismanagement.