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Keith Strudler: Adrian Peterson

The NFL is like a giant vacuum. It pretty much sucks the air out of everything around it. That’s why in May, in the middle of the baseball regular season and the NBA playoffs, all people can talk about is the NFL draft. It’s an American obsession, caring more about professional football than baseball, basketball, hockey, global affairs, and your kid’s birthday combined. That’s the way the NFL likes it.

Of course, right now, the league might not appreciate the attention. Even as the sport marches its way into meaningful regular season games, a disproportionate share of media and fan passions have turned to the continued wayward actions of players and the way in which team owners and league commissioner Roger Goodell handle them. Two weeks ago it was Ray Rice, which we all assumed could literally never be removed from the front page minus a nuclear war with Martians. That was until last week, when we heard the ugly tale of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who was arrested for reckless or negligent injury to a child for punishing his 4 year old sun with a tree branch. And sadly, this is the second time in a just over a year that the authorities have questioned Peterson for aggressive discipline of one of his several children, the last incident happening in June of 2013.

For his wrongdoing, the Minnesota Vikings suspended Peterson for one, just one game, and have reinstated him to play this weekend. That’s a stark contrast to Rice, who’s now out indefinitely for his misdeeds. That doesn’t sit well with many outside the fantasy football world. In fact, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton has called for a more substantial suspension.  Minnesota senator Al Frankin said the same. League sponsors have expressed their displeasure with the commissioner, although in all fairness, none have yet pulled their agreements. For the time being, it is much sound and fury, a common refrain for the NFL in recent days.

The league’s actions have been both reactive and too often confounding, particularly for an organization that’s as image conscious as they appear to be. While they may have just hired a former White House official as the new senior vice president for public policy and government affairs and brought on three female domestic violence experts as consultants, the league also allowed Carolina’s Greg Hardy to play until this week despite serious domestic abuse charges. For all the teeth the NFL has sunk into effective drug testing policy, it’s clueless and inconsistent outside the lines, which is why athletes have an easier time playing through a felony assault charge than for getting caught smoking a joint.

Criticisms of the NFL and commissioner Goodell are both fair and unfair, as often is the case. On the one hand, the league should have dealt with these issues of deviance long ago, as part of their comprehensive plan to own and embody America. They’re scrambling for answers because they haven’t bothered to ask the right questions. On the other side, the league isn’t a typical top down organization, where the boss snaps his fingers and everyone jumps. At best, the league is a group of powerful fiefdoms, better known as teams, overseen by rich powerful owners that don’t enjoy being told how to run their business. If it were easier than that, we’d have a team formerly known as the Redskins, not the stubborn artifact owned by Dan Synder, who make Charlton Heston seem flexible in contrast. So as much Roger Goodell should enforce better policy, just remember his best intentions could likely mean a trip to the unemployment office.

In the end though, Goodell and the league should have prepared for this years ago. Even before the era of TMZ and 24/7 news, the league knew it had a violence problem. Because we’re just now finding out about it doesn’t excuse their poor management.

We’ve heard a few voices discuss why Peterson might have hit his son, about regional difference, even discussions of race and family values. In many, if not most ways, that’s just a red herring. Debating regional difference in child discipline is like arguing if someone can drive drunk. At some point, the law takes over, as it has here. And the NFL, a business that operates exclusively in the public domain, should have been prepared for that. That’s why Roger Goodell deserves blame here. For not thinking progressively. For not having true authority. And for not being able to do what’s right just because it is.

That’s why people are calling for his job, and why the NFL is all over the front page. Oddly, for once, they’d actually rather not be. 

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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