On February 26, 2015, a United States District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota ruled that National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell and an arbitrator were wrong to indefinitely suspend Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson because of a misdemeanor child-abuse conviction.
As a result of a May 2014 incident involving Peterson and his son, a Texas grand jury indicted Peterson on a charge of felony reckless or negligent injury of a child. After learning of the indictment, the Vikings deactivated Peterson for the next game. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), on behalf of Peterson, and the NFL agreed in writing to place Peterson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List with full pay “until the criminal charges … are adjudicated.” When Peterson’s final conviction came down, the NFL used its new Personal Conduct Policy in determining to indefinitely suspend Peterson.
In August, 2014, the NFL issued an enhanced Personal Conduct Policy in response to the domestic violence incident involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. The new policy increased the sanctions for domestic violence and sexual assault incidents. When the NFL applied this new policy to Peterson, the NFLPA challenged the NFL and the NFL Management Council on behalf of Peterson, arguing that the new personal conduct policy could not be applied retroactively. The case when to arbitration, and the arbitrator sided with the NFL. The NFLPA appealed the arbitrator’s decision, putting the case before the United States District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota.
The District Court Judge hearing the case agreed with Peterson and the NFLPA that the new policy could not be applied retroactively. The Judge wrote the indefinite suspension was wrong because, “it is undisputed that under the previous policy, first-time offenders faced a likely maximum suspension of two games.” He also wrote that the suspension violated the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union because Peterson had not been given an opportunity to be heard before discipline was imposed, contrary to the procedure that tradition has been followed.
This ruling remands the case back to arbitration. Only upon completion of these proceedings will it be clear whether Peterson will be able to return to the NFL.