Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the National Football League (“NFL”) regarding the suspension of star running back Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings. The appeal resulted out of a suspension handed to Adrian Peterson during the 2014 NFL season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Peterson was suspended by the NFL indefinitely after Peterson entered a plea of nolo contendere in response to a criminal charge of misdemeanor reckless assault of one of his children. Peterson subsequently appealed the suspension to an arbitrator who upheld the NFL’s decision and the fines imposed by the NFL. Peterson then petitioned to the district court, which decided to vacate the arbitration decision and the fines. The NFL appealed the district court’s decision and reinstated Peterson, who is currently eligible to play in the NFL. The remaining issue in the instant appeal revolves around whether the NFL is entitled to collect the fines it imposed against Peterson, and does not relate to Peterson’s ability to continue playing in the NFL.
The Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the NFL and reversed the district court’s decision to vacate the arbitration decision and related fines against Peterson. The effect of the NFL’s suspension and fine amounted to six weeks of Peterson’s salary. The district court’s decision to vacate the arbitration decision was based upon the finding that Commissioner Goodell could not retroactively apply a new and enhanced disciplinary standard to Peterson. The NFL Player’s Association (“NFLPA”) argued that a maximum of a two (2) game suspension was appropriate for a first-time domestic violation infraction and cited to the suspension of former NFL running back Ray Rice in support. However, the Eighth Circuit disagreed noting that the arbitration decision had sufficiently shown that in regards to the Peterson suspension Commissioner Goodell had discretion to impose a six (6) game suspension and fine if he had concluded that previous shorter suspensions were inadequate. The Eighth Circuit further stated that the Commissioner is “not forever bound to historical precedent if prior discipline . . . provided insufficient deterrence.” As a result, the Eighth Circuit upheld the arbitration’s decision which found that Commissioner Goodell acted within his authority and did not change previous policies. In making its decision to uphold the arbitration decision the Eighth Circuit noted that the Court’s role in such cases is limited and that the Court would not “apply its own view of what would be appropriate player discipline.” The result of this ruling is that Peterson will have to pay the fines imposed, but can continue playing in the NFL.
This ruling appears to be a victory for the NFL and an affirmation of the Commissioner’s discretionary power. However, the dispute may not be entirely over as the NFLPA can choose to ask for a rehearing of the decision. We will be monitoring the status of this case. Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.
Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
 See, National Football League Players Association, on its own and on behalf of Adrian Peterson v. National Football League, et. al., No. 15-1438 (8th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016), available at http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/16/08/151438P.pdf