Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has scored a significant legal victory, although the NFL will keep him off the field by placing him on the commissioner's exempt list.
U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled Thursday that NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson exceeded his authority in suspending Peterson, according to rules agreed upon by the league and the players’ union. Doty has ordered the case back to arbitration.
The ruling means Peterson comes off the suspended list and can return to the Vikings, although it is not known whether he will play for them again or will be traded or released.
The NFL released a statement saying it disagreed with the ruling and would file an appeal. The league said it put Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list, making him ineligible to play or participate in team activities until his legal proceedings have run their course.
"Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA [collective bargaining agreement], including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as hearing officer," the NFL's statement said. "Even so, we believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions. As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court."
NFL Players Assn. Executive Director DeMaurice Smith applauded the decision:
“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players' rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”
Peterson and the NFL Players Assn. had argued that the league was wrong to apply the new rules to Peterson for an act he allegedly committed before those rules were put in place. Faced with charges that he struck his 4-year-old son with a switch, Peterson pleaded no contest in November to misdemeanor reckless assault and avoided jail time.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Peterson until at least April 15.