There was no way – no way at all – Roger Goodell was going to pass on the opportunity to come down stronger than a Texas judge.
Certainly not on an issue such as child abuse, certainly not when so much of the public was rightfully aghast at Adrian Peterson unapologetically whipping one of his children with a tree branch, certainly not after Peterson escaped any meaningful legal punishment after agreeing to a plea deal in Montgomery County, Texas, and certainly not when the NFL commissioner is desperate for an issue to make him look strong yet caring.
Goodell acted Tuesday in an entirely predictable manner, announcing Peterson is suspended indefinitely without pay via a hardened "open letter" to the star running back. Peterson will not even be considered for reinstatement until April and that will be contingent on “the results of the counseling and treatment program set forth in this decision.”
So, April is the best-case scenario.
The NFLPA and Peterson’s lawyers will no doubt appeal – the NFLPA already announced it will appeal – others will argue there were better ways to use the Minnesota Viking’s fame to combat this issue, but Peterson is a tough one to defend, and Goodell knew it, each word of his open letter dripping with outrage.
“First, the injury was inflicted on a child who was only  years old,” Goodell started, like a prosecutor, before unnecessarily painting out the facts of the case that Peterson doesn’t deny. “The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant, and your actions clearly caused physical injury to the child.
“While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse – to flee, to fight back, or to seek help from law enforcement – none of those options is realistically available to a -year-old child. Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.
“Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete.
“Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct,” the commissioner concluded. “When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids’ and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child’s mother. You also said that you felt ‘very confident with my actions because I know my intent.’
“These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future.”
All fair points, even if they look to be re-raised out of a sense of grandstanding.
“The well-being of your children is of paramount concern,” Goodell stated.
Peterson is a hill few are going to want to tackle, so the defense should be muted. Goodell jumped the process a bit, so the union is expected to question the process. Maybe Peterson even sues in an attempt to get his money.
Among much of the public, which Goodell is playing to, this works.
Only those with a misguided sense of how to discipline a child – sorry, but violently slapping a 4-year-old with a switch is not “spanking” – will be outraged.
Goodell will accept the screams of political correctness, the cries he is somehow contributing to the downfall of America. He’ll take that one every day, especially after the year he’s had.
Peterson needs help, but if there is one thing this incident showed is that many excuse Peterson’s actions as a cultural difference in how to parent. Please. Adrian Peterson isn’t much of a parent. He has children scattered throughout the country, only occasionally sees them and then believes beating the tar out of a 4-year-old is the best way to gain compliance.
One thousand percent of childcare experts disagree.
The extent of such entrenched parenting ignorance was the most disturbing thing to come out of the Peterson scandal. The man’s actions were defended. Peterson’s defense team in Texas expressed optimism it could win with a jury of his peers. Peterson himself, in statements and even real-time texts with the boy’s mother, was open and even flippant about his actions.
In his mind, he loved his son and was doing the right thing. He isn’t alone.
The NFL is remanding Peterson to counseling to better understand what he did and the ramifications it will have on the development of his child. That’s reasonable and important use of his non-playing time.
For this case to be anything more than simply a muscle flex for Goodell, however, the league should commit itself to communicating the same truths Peterson will learn to the public at large, hopefully even using a reformed Peterson to convey the message.
Goodell is correct to be outraged and disgusted. There should be no tears shed for Adrian Peterson, who had all the power and freedom to not do what he did.
Here’s hoping there is more to this, however, than open letters and stern punishments. Here’s hoping this is step one in the NFL using its immense bully pulpit to help teach that there is a difference between fathering a child and being a father.