If the NFL wants to get serious about domestic violence, it could be in for a seriously awkward first step.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault, according to CNN. This means Peterson won't be going to jail for any length of time but will submit to probation, community service, a fine and parenting classes.
To recap for those who may be out of the loop. Peterson did not "spank" he child. No, in pictures obtained by TMZ, it's clear that Peterson lost control while whipping his young child with a tree branch, resulting in large bleeding sores all over his legs, buttocks and groin areas—wounds that were still reportedly bleeding when the child returned to his mother.
Following the incident, the son was clearly afraid of "Daddy Peterson," and it seemed like a pretty clear sign that this sort of thing was ingrained into the young child's head.
That's not discipline; that's punitive fear.
This, of course, is just one of Peterson's many children from many different women in a few different states. So, the idea that Peterson was just "disciplining" his child falls a little short since Peterson is hardly in the life of this young boy. The facts of this case don't at all support a loving father training his child in the way he should go, but a harsh man losing control on a helpless victim.
Since Peterson, unlike Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, is still a member of the Vikings due to the commissioner exempt list—explained here by Jarrett Bell of USA Today Sports—he could conceivably rejoin the Vikings for their very next game. Thanks to the Vikings' Week 10 bye and the timing of the judgement, things have lined up almost perfectly for Minnesota to get its star running back...uh, back.
This flies in the face of everything the NFL is trying to do. It's currently still trying to project an image of seriousness on domestic violence. In fact, it's not doing much else except for thinking about talking, and it's not even doing that right. According to The Associated Press:
The players' union has questioned why the NFL's domestic violence training and education program "treats all players as perpetrators."
In a memo sent to NFL Players Association members on Thursday by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the union also said the plan "doesn't build a positive consensus to warning signs."
Smith and union special counsel Teri Patterson described two meetings this month with the league in which an NFLPA commission was briefed on the league's approach to educating players, coaches, executives, owners and NFL personnel about domestic violence. He wrote that a "good overview of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse" was presented. But "it did not address larger issues of violence in and outside of the home."
The players' union had many more issues with the program, including questioning whether the experts the NFL have running and maintaining the program are actually qualified to do so.
When Roger Goodell went in front of NFL media members about the Rice incident—that presser torn apart here by HBO's John Oliver (via Sports Illustrated)—he didn't really offer solutions. Instead, it was about forming plans, organizing committees and planning those aforementioned (clearly flawed) talks.
Let's take a second and step into an alternate dimension of NFL decision-making. Now, in this dimension, Peterson's trial takes forever because he doesn't get the miraculous celebrity treatment that moves him to the front of the line. In that atmosphere, all of this likely becomes no harm/no foul because the NFL gets to take one thing at a time.
In that atmosphere, the NFL can take care of the Rice appeal then take another run at those talks and maybe have to worry about Peterson at a later date.
In real life, the NFL has not even begun truly addressing the domestic violence issue as it said it would. Its first public act could be the full reinstatement of Peterson and putting him on the field in uniform for the Minnesota crowd to cheer him on in a few weeks when the Green Bay Packers come to town.
What great optics that will be for the embattled league!
That scene could come fresh off the heels of a loss in the Rice appeal—broken down here by Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann—not because Rice's incident is somehow more "right" today than it was before, but because Goodell and the NFL botched the investigation in the first place and tried to cover their tracks by breaking labor law and suspending Rice in double-jeopardy fashion.
Let's run through that hypothetical future timeline of events.
First, Peterson comes out to thunderous applause.
Second, the league lose's Rice's appeal.
Third, Rice is reinstated and immediately begins working out for potential playoff-bound teams with needs in the backfield.
Then, on the very back page of papers, under the note about a team trying out a practice-squad kicker, perhaps there's finally a note about the league having one of these domestic violence talks it's finally decided to have.
Goodell and the NFL have to do everything within their power to make sure they hold Peterson to a higher standard than the Texas justice system has. The league has precedence with this—most recently with Rice's indefinite suspension but previously as little as four years ago with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Maybe that looks like keeping Peterson out of a uniform until after his community service and parenting classes. Maybe, it looks like gently suggesting the Vikings just keep him on the exempt list until the offseason.
Whatever it is, the league cannot allow his return to football to be its first salvo against domestic violence. If it's as serious about domestic violence as it says it is, it has to be serious against those who commit it.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.