Four days ago, the NFL Players Association filed a legal challenge to the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. The exhibits to the petition include a pair of recorded phone calls between Peterson and NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.
PFT has obtained the recorded phone calls. They create the distinct impression that Vincent was trying aggressively and zealously to persuade Peterson to attend a meeting in the league office on Friday, November 17.
“We’ve gotta make sure you show up on Friday,” Vincent said at one point in the first of two recorded calls. That first call also had Vincent suggesting very strongly to Peterson that, if he shows up for the meeting, he could learn as early as that night that he would miss only two additional games before returning for the final five games of the season.
“The number that you gave me is real,” Vincent said in reference to a two-game suspension, “but you gotta go through the process.”
Vincent’s words ultimately were used by the NFLPA and Peterson as evidence that the NFL retaliated against Peterson for not showing up at the November 14 meeting, yanking a wink-nod understanding that he’d be suspended two games and hitting him with a harder punishment. But it was unclear from the two phone calls whether Peterson definitely would be suspended only two games if he showed up at the meeting. Listening to both tapes, the impression is that Vincent (regardless of motivation) desperately wanted to get Peterson to attend the meeting, and that Vincent (regardless of motivation) came off as a guy who was trying to broker a deal behind the scenes.
There’s no clear guarantee from Vincent that Peterson would have gotten only two games if he had shown up for the meeting. With Vincent asking Peterson “can I trust you?” and insisting that Peterson not tell anyone about their discussions regarding a two-game suspension, it’s clear Vincent had one clear objective — to get Peterson to show up.
Possibly, Vincent was doing so at the behest of Commissioner Roger Goodell and/or others in the upper echelon of the league office. Possibly, Vincent was simply acting on his own, thinking that he’d be helping Peterson by getting Peterson to submit to a meeting that was loosely defined and, given the involvement of outside experts, unprecedented.
Vincent’s testimony from the Peterson appeal hearing, a copy of which PFT also has obtained, makes it clear that Vincent was dealing with a diverse group that had developed no consensus as to Peterson’s additional punishment. The audiotapes don’t convey the same “anything can happen” message to Adrian; instead, Vincent was strongly selling optimism that the final outcome could be two games.
Far more telling than the discussions about a two-game suspension were a couple of other comments that have not been emphasized by another media outlet that obtained the audio. First, Vincent asked Peterson in the initial call, “If there is more discipline, what should it be?” This strongly implies that Vincent, contrary to his superiors, believes suspension with pay is discipline.
Second, if there was any doubt about the first comment, Vincent elaborated on that point in the subsequent call. “You were away from the game,” Vincent said. “You were not participating, even though it was a paid leave. You were not participating. And ballplayers know their shelf life.”
Faced with that language during the Peterson appeal hearing, Vincent offered the following explanation: “Can I tell you why I shared that? Is because inside this group I had people who have no idea what the culture of or what the lifespan is of a National Football League player and they could care less. I was hoping, when this — that they would consider that you have a shelf life, the body has a shelf life as an NFL player. Because there are people in this group, they could care less. I was giving context so they can keep things into consideration.”
That’s the strongest, clearest argument yet against the NFL’s ill-advised position that paid leave for allegations of off-field misconduct isn’t discipline. And it’s coming from the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, one of the highest ranking members of the league office.
Regardless of anything else that happens with Peterson’s case, Vincent’s taped comments and testimony should become the centerpiece of a challenge by the NFLPA to the league’s cockeyed notion that putting a player on paid leave harms neither the player nor his team. Surely, it does.
If there was any doubt, just ask Peterson and the Vikings, who’d likely be a lot better than 6-8 right now if they’d had Peterson available for even half of the season.