MINNEAPOLIS — An arbiter appointed by the NFL ruled Friday that Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson will remain suspended until at least next spring in the child-abuse case that has sidelined him for all but one game this season.
The decision by Harold Henderson, a former league official, upheld the NFL's decision last month to suspend Peterson without pay for the remainder of the season and not consider him for reinstatement before April 15.
Peterson was paid during his appeal, but Henderson's ruling means Peterson will forfeit checks from the team's last six games. That amounts to a fine of more than $4.1 million.
The NFL Players Association called Henderson's objectivity into question and said it was “considering immediate legal remedies” to the decision.
“The NFLPA expected this outcome, given the hearing officer's relationship and financial ties to the NFL,” the union said in a statement. “The decision itself ignores the facts, the evidence and the collective bargaining agreement. This decision also represents the NFL's repeated failure to adhere to due process and confirms its inconsistent treatment of players.”
The Vikings declined to comment. Peterson is a three-time, first-team Associated Press All-Pro and reached the Pro Bowl in six of his first seven NFL seasons, all with Minnesota. Peterson led the NFL in rushing twice, including 2012 when his 2,097 yards fell 9 short of breaking Eric Dickerson's all-time record, but he may never play again for the Vikings after this mess.
Peterson was charged with felony child abuse in September for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son, but he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault in November. He had been on paid leave, on a special exempt list at the discretion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, while his case moved through the court system.
At the crux of the NFLPA's argument for reinstatement was what NFL executive vice president for football operations Troy Vincent told Peterson last month when the dispute was at its height. According to a person with knowledge of the conversation, Vincent told Peterson he would receive a two-game ban if he attended a hearing on Nov. 14 with Goodell.
Peterson declined to meet that day with Goodell, citing uncertainty about the NFL's intent to question him. Goodell then announced on Nov. 18 that Peterson would be suspended for the six games that remained for the Vikings at the time and not be considered for reinstatement until April.
A recording and a transcript of what Vincent told Peterson was presented by the NFLPA to Henderson, who oversaw a hearing on Dec. 2. Peterson attended that and listened via telephone as the hearing continued on Dec. 4, when Vincent was questioned.
The union and league have been sniping at each other over the personal-conduct policy since former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's case eventually prompted Goodell to upgrade the penalty for a first offense of assault, battery or domestic violence to a six-game suspension. After first suspending Rice for two games, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely amid a national furor over his initial leniency.
Rice's appeal, however, went to a neutral arbiter who ruled in his favor and reinstated him.
Peterson injured his son when the boy visited him in May at his home in the Houston area. Peterson acknowledged physically disciplining the boy as he had been as a youth, but said he meant no harm and was sorry for the trouble he caused. Peterson reached a no-contest plea agreement in Texas on Nov. 4, reducing the charge to misdemeanor reckless assault for probation time, community service and a small fine.
“I love my son more than any of you can imagine,” he said outside the courthouse that day.
The Vikings (6-7) have three games remaining. They initially announced Peterson would stay on the active roster after the first game he missed following the indictment on Sept. 13, but they reversed course less than two days later following intense public pressure and placed him on the exempt list.
Peterson's current contract runs through 2017, but that's not guaranteed like the other major sports. The Vikings could release him before next season and owe him nothing and take only a $2.4 million hit on their 2015 salary cap, the remaining prorated portion of the signing bonus he received on Sept. 10, 2011.