‘Due Process’: Adrian Peterson’s Return And The NFL’s Magic Words


Adrian Peterson


The Minnesota Vikings announced in a statement Monday that star running back Adrian Peterson will return to team activities and is expected to play in the team’s third game of the season Sunday, a week after he was indicted in Texas on child abuse charges. The Vikings deactivated Peterson for this week’s game against New England after he turned himself in to authorities on charges stemming from what Peterson described as “whooping” of his four-year-old son. Peterson used a switch and left bruises and wounds up and down the child’s legs and on his genitals, according to police reports.

Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf announced the organization’s decision in a statement posted to the team’s web site:

Today’s decision was made after significant thought, discussion and consideration. As evidenced by our decision to deactivate Adrian from yesterday’s game, this is clearly a very important issue. On Friday, we felt it was in the best interests of the organization to step back, evaluate the situation, and not rush to judgment given the seriousness of this matter. At that time, we made the decision that we felt was best for the Vikings and all parties involved.

To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child. At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action. This is a difficult path to navigate, and our focus is on doing the right thing. Currently we believe we are at a juncture where the most appropriate next step is to allow the judicial process to move forward.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely and support Adrian’s fulfillment of his legal responsibilities throughout this process.

Due process has become a common term in the NFL in the last two weeks. The San Francisco 49ers have cited “due process” as the reason for allowing defensive tackle Ray McDonald to suit up for the first two games of the season after his arrest on felony domestic violence charges. The Carolina Panthers used “due process” as the backstop behind the decision to keep defensive end Greg Hardy, who is currently appealing his conviction on domestic violence charges, on the field in the season opener (amid criticism of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, the Panthers deactivated Hardy this weekend). Now the Vikings are using it to bring Peterson back to the field.

There’s nothing wrong with respecting due process, of course. But it often seems as if NFL teams are simply hiding behind the term as a justification for keeping certain players on the field or for public relations reasons, because when due process applies and when it doesn’t is hardly consistent. The Vikings weren’t “waiting on the judicial process” to move forward when they deactivated Peterson — effectively suspending him with pay — before Sunday’s game, and nothing in the case has changed since. Nothing, other than the amount of attention it is receiving, changed in Hardy’s case when the Panthers decided to deactivate him this weekend after initially letting him play. The Panthers haven’t said whether Hardy will be active this weekend.

And the Vikings, as ESPN legal analyst Andrew Brandt tweeted, weren’t as worried about due process in 2013, when they released cornerback A.J. Jefferson the same day he was charged with domestic violence. Or in 2011, when the team, as the Associated Press has noted, suspended cornerback Chris Cook without pay after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. The team reinstated Cook to the active roster just two games later, but it still banned him from participating in all team activities, including games, until his trial concluded. Cook, who denied the charges and was eventually acquitted, missed a total of 10 games. Peterson, by contrast, has not denied his actions and said that he saw nothing wrong with the way he treated his son. Unless something changes, he will miss just one.

Minnesota lost 30-7 to the New England Patriots on Sunday while Peterson, who won the league’s offensive MVP award two seasons ago, sat. The team rushed for 54 yards.