Adrian Peterson just got himself a right good hiding by the NFL’s make-it-up-as-we-go-along discipline factory, and while you can argue that taking a branch to a child to teach how pain works deserves the severest sanction a business can allow, we still have the fact that the NFL and the law firm of Caprice, Marketing and Goodell are using the switch their own way.
And since the NFL Players Association did what all unions do and argued about money rather than players’ rights, this can only serve as a guidepost moment for the NBA and Major League Baseball as it faces its own new collective bargaining negotiations.
Namely, that non-monetary issues matter. A lot. Ignore them, and you get what the NFL has been enjoying this year – the scorn of a nation and an enormous rise in billable hours.
The Peterson issue is sordid enough on its face. He beat his child as his father beat him, on the theory that “I turned out okay, didn’t I?” Well, he didn’t, clearly, and that logic is mercifully fading, albeit slowly, from the national ethos. Discipline with props is abuse, period, and no argument can make that not be so.
But the NFL mishandled this from the start, making up things as it went along as it reeled from the even more spectacular cockups and outright deceptions of the Ray Rice matter.
Roger Goodell, desperate to seem omnipotent at the cost of seeming wise or even forthright, has lost his moral authority to be a moral authority, and that means that Tony Clark of the MLBPA and Michele Roberts of the NBAPA have some lessons to learn and to teach their clients about how to approach their new CBA fights, to wit:
1. There are some things money can’t buy. Pay greater attention to things like player safety and discipline, things that aren’t directly about money, because try as you might, you cannot control the potential reprobate next to you.
2. Sit down with the owners and codify the discipline code even before the money issues, even if it means keeping the doors closed awhile longer. This is not an easy task, and experts from the outside have to be brought in to help explain the true cost of violence and how to repair its damage, which means a loss of time and power, but it must be done, even if it means leaving that last C-note on the table.
3. Make the union’s default position lean more heavily toward civic responsibility and less toward per diems. This isn’t about defending the rights of the players to get $405 a day rather than $400, it’s about making the games and their representatives more worthy of our attention.
4. Drill it into the players’ heads that money comes and money goes but reputations live forever. Adrian Peterson is a child-beater forever, and Ray Rice will never stop dragging his fiancée (now wife) out of that elevator, and Richie Incognito will always be the bully, and the innocent and uncharged get the same “Aren’t you the guy who . . . ?” treatment. Citizenship matters more than cred.
5. Meanwhile, drill it into the owners’ heads that a dictatorship in which one man – in these cases, Adam Silver and Rob Manfred – decides who gets what for what, and can change the rules as circumstances arise, isn’t law, or fair. Discipline must be a shared responsibility or it isn’t discipline, and it’s a fight worth having. The devil in any negotiation is in the details, and that’s why you get paid to represent those players, and why those players need you to fight the fights they don’t think are important.
Because, ultimately, they are. The injustice in the Adrian Peterson case isn’t that he doesn’t get to play for a year. The real injustice is that a child was beaten, a child who has a long road ahead of it and needs the care of a lot of adults to break the cycle of violence that ran through Peterson to him.
But there is an added injustice in that the NFL never followed any known guidelines from the start in dealing with Peterson, because it never paid attention to such things in the past, and because it likes the idea of letting the punishment fit the criminal rather than the crime. It’s why Rice got the kid-gloves treatment until the public demanded he get the works, to the detriment of all involved. And why Peterson can grieve his punishment rather than accept it and resume the real job of healing himself so that he can make amends, such as they are, for his actions.
That’s why Tony Clark and Michele Roberts need to learn from this, just as Rob Manfred and Adam Silver. This is bigger than you all, and if you let this opportunity slip because you’ve all been trained to argue over money rather than rights, all you are, for all your education and achievement, are accountants to the rich.
And that is a contemptible waste of your skills.