EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was declared out, back in, then out again as he faces a felony child-abuse charge in Texas.
This time, he could be gone for the season.
“We made a mistake,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said, “and we needed to get this right.”
Vikings executives emerged Wednesday from a late-night deliberation to voice regret of their initial decision to let Peterson play this week after sitting him for a game once he was charged with injuring his 4-year-old son by spanking him with a wooden switch. Now Peterson is back on paid leave through a special roster exemption granted by the NFL, the same protocol cited by the Carolina Panthers as they sat defensive end Greg Hardy a few hours later while he deals with his own domestic violence case.
“We will support Adrian during this legal and personal process, but we firmly believe this is the right decision,” said Wilf, the team’s co-owner with younger brother Mark Wilf.
During a 17-minute news conference at Vikings headquarters, the word “right” was used a total of 34 times by the Wilfs, vice-president Kevin Warren and general manager Rick Spielman. They expressed concern about child welfare, recognized their role as public figures and reminded the audience of the community service work done regularly by players.
The most emphatic responses, though, came to questions from reporters about external pressure.
Did the NFL strong-arm the decision? Did the loss of sponsorships drive it?
“Absolutely not,” Mark Wilf, the team president, said on both subjects.
He added: “We appreciate our fans, men and women alike, our sponsors and the community. We hear their input.”
Backlash was swift to the announcement Monday that Peterson would rejoin the Vikings after being held out Sunday. The Radisson hotel chain suspended its team sponsorship. Prominent NFL advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch, raised concern about recent off-the-field problems. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for Peterson’s suspension.
Picked for six Pro Bowls in his first seven seasons, Peterson’s popularity took a huge hit.
He was dropped this week from several of his endorsement deals. Shoe giant Nike suspended its sponsorship deal, saying it “in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and has shared our concerns with the NFL.”
“It is important to always listen to our fans and the community and our sponsors,” Zygi Wilf said, at least vaguely contradicting his brother’s denial that revenue had an impact on the decision to reverse course.
US Bank spokesman Dana Ripley said the company, a strong candidate for naming rights on the Vikings new stadium set to open in 2016, agreed with the decision to put Peterson on hiatus.
“We have been in close communication with the Vikings organization for the past couple of days firmly expressing our perspective,” Ripley said.
Peterson’s case remains under review per the league’s personal conduct policy, spokesman Greg Aiello said, so a suspension could still be possible once resolution in court is reached. That’s not expected until 2015. Peterson has an Oct. 8 court appearance scheduled in Montgomery County, outside of Houston.
His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the case “will be up to a judge and jury to decide, which is the way it should be,” indicating a plea deal was not in the works.
The 29-year-old Peterson said he was administering the same type of discipline he experienced growing up and didn’t meant to hurt his son. Peterson also said he’s met with a psychologist and acknowledged alternatives “that may be more appropriate” than corporal punishment.
His mother, Bonita Jackson, told the Houston Chronicle that she and his father used switches and belts to occasionally spank all of their children.
“Most of us disciplined our kids a little more than we meant sometimes,” said Jackson, who has not returned messages from The Associated Press. “But we were only trying to prepare them for the real world. When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, but love.”
The exempt list, which allows the Vikings to fill Peterson’s spot on the 53-man roster while retaining his rights, is available “only in unusual circumstances,” according to NFL policy. Commissioner Roger Goodell has the sole authority to grant the exemption — or lift it.
The NFL Players Association characterized Peterson’s status as “voluntary leave,” in issuing a statement of support. His agent, Ben Dogra, told The Associated Press the decision was “the best possible outcome given the circumstances.”
But the team wanted to make clear it made the call.