By Jeanine Ball – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
NFL star running back Adrian Peterson, who has been touted as one of the best players in the NFL will face a hearing on the fate of his future with the League this coming Monday.
In early September, allegations broke that Peterson abused his four year old son. His son was injured when hit by a wooden switch or stick, including bruising and cuts on his body. Peterson was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child. Last week he bargained for a plea deal to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. The terms of the plea included 80 hours of community service work, two years of “deferred adjudication” (which is similar to probation), a fine of $4,000, and a requirement to attend parenting classes.
Throughout the ordeal Peterson has been suspended from his team, the Minnesota Vikings, while still receiving his annual salary of $11.25 million.
Issues of race, domestic violence, and the intense scrutiny on professional athletes have brought this story to a fevered pitch on social media.
Peterson has had a chaotic year. His two year old son was murdered in October of 2013. Peterson returned to play just days later. Since the indictment for abuse of his four year old son in September, his arrest was considered after he admitted to “smoking a little weed.”
Now he has pled guilty. What does this mean for his future in the NFL?
The NFL guidelines for domestic violence were amended in August following the Ray Rice scandal. A six game suspension is now the punishment for a first offence (it was previously just two games). The player’s union on Peterson’s behalf is arguing for immediate reinstatement. Neither option seems a just solution under the circumstances.
Peterson offered some justification for his actions towards his son as Peterson used disciplinary techniques used on him as a child growing up in Texas. His mother has defended his actions and has emphasized they were acts that were motivated by love. She has been quoted as saying, “When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, it’s about love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong.” Regardless of his personal history, causing harm to a child contravened both United States federal and international Law. A $4,000 fine to an individual making a salary of $11.25 million and some hours of community service and probation time is not a significant penalty considering the circumstances of the offender.
Likewise, a six game suspension may serve a purpose in terms of deterrence, but the time involved is insufficient to allow substantive recovery or reconciliation for Peterson with his family. A leave of absence from his team and the NFL would give him time to receive counselling and increase the chance for him to restore a healthy relationship with his son and focus on parenting out of the media glare. Continuing to play in the NFL is not a context that will allow Peterson to rehabilitate from these personal issues.
In order to move towards positive outcomes, the discussion should shift to a focus on healing at a number of levels. Seemingly forgotten in the hysteria around Peterson’s punishment is that a four year old boy was physically and emotionally abused and that concern for his rehabilitation – not those of his famous father back into the NFL – should come first.