Adrian Peterson is unlikely to play again this season and his future as a Minnesota Viking appears in doubt.
Facing a revolt by its corporate ad partners, the team abruptly reversed course Wednesday and announced the star running back had accepted a voluntary suspension — with pay — while he faces criminal charges that he beat his 4-year-old son.
Instead of rejoining the Vikings for Sunday’s game as previously planned, Peterson won’t return to the field until the legal proceedings are concluded, a process lawyers have said is likely to stretch well into 2015.
In the meantime, Peterson’s public image continues to take a pummeling, as Target banned the former MVP’s merchandise from its stores.
At a Wednesday press conference, the Vikings ownership group and General Manager Rick Spielman called the earlier decision to reinstate Peterson “a mistake.”
Co-owner Zygi Wilf opened the nationally televised news conference by saying, “We made a mistake and we needed to get this right.
“We embrace our role in the community and the responsibilities that go with it,” Wilf continued. “It’s important to always listen to our fans, the community and our sponsors.”
Wilf’s brother, Mark, also a co-owner, insisted that the decision to place Peterson on the league’s exempt list was not driven by backlash from corporate sponsors and that it was “100 percent” the team’s decision — not the NFL’s.
The league has drawn the ire of Anheuser-Busch, one of its most lucrative sponsors, for negative publicity due to off-field player conduct.
The Vikings say they approached the league about obtaining the special exemption, which was granted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The team then discussed the matter with Peterson and his agent, Ben Dogra. The NFL Players Association also was involved in the discussions.
“We came up with what we thought was the best resolution for everyone,” Spielman said.
The Vikings, who would not say if they considered cutting Peterson at any point during their many discussions, do not know if Peterson will play this season and are preparing as if he won’t.
“We want to support Adrian. That’s the most important thing right now, to support him through his legal and personal matters,” Spielman said. “But we also want to make sure that we get this right today.”
A quick ending to the court case seemed unlikely. Peterson faces a felony charge in Texas, accused of injuring his 4-year-old son by disciplining him with a “switch.” Peterson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said no plea negotiations were occurring and that he has “no reason to believe” the case won’t go to trial in about nine months as prosecutors previously indicated. Hardin said he will know more about the schedule after Peterson’s first hearing on Oct. 8.
In a written statement, Hardin said Peterson wants to “continue his work in the NFL and contribute to his team and community. In order to do so, he is prepared to resolve this matter in the appropriate legal forum rather than the court of public opinion.”
The team’s actions Wednesday appeared to satisfy one large corporate sponsor, U.S. Bank, which is the leading candidate to secure naming rights for the new Vikings stadium.
U.S. Bank spokesman Dana Ripley said the company “agrees with the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to place Adrian Peterson on the NFL’s exempt list until the legal proceedings are completed. We have been in close communication with the Vikings organization for the past couple of days, firmly expressing our perspective.”
A spokesperson for Radisson, which on Monday was the first corporate sponsor to at least temporarily suspend ties with the Vikings over the Peterson case, said the company would not immediately change its stance in light of the team’s decision not to play Peterson.
The Radisson logo, which had previously appeared on the backdrop at team news conferences, was not displayed Wednesday.
Nike suspended its contract with Peterson on Wednesday morning, becoming the latest sponsor — joining Castrol, Wheaties and Mylan — to distance itself from Peterson.
Target’s actions Wednesday included taking down Peterson’s No. 28 jerseys and other merchandise. Peterson had been featured in an exclusive line of football T-shirts sold at Target this fall in a partnership with Pro Merch. The shirt showed him on one knee looking up to the sky with the phrase “Purple Reign” superimposed on top.
“Taking into account the feedback from our guests, and in light of the team’s most recent actions, we are opting to remove Peterson merchandise from our stores and Target.com,” Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
The team issued a statement effectively suspending Peterson shortly after midnight on Wednesday following a tumultuous Tuesday that featured backlash from fans, corporate sponsors and politicians such as Gov. Mark Dayton.
Mark Wilf downplayed the notion that public outcry caused the reversal.
“I don’t want to Monday-morning-quarterback what it was,” Wilf said. “We constantly strive as an organization to do the right thing. It’s a fluid situation here and it’s an ongoing process. … In the end, the goal is always for us to be a first-class organization and to get it right and we feel we’ve done so.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, the Wilfs spoke in front of the news media for the first time since Peterson’s indictment. After Zygi Wilf read his statement, he walked off the podium, leaving Mark Wilf, Spielman and Vikings Vice President of Legal Affairs Kevin Warren to answer questions from a large group of reporters who filled the team’s new meeting room inside its indoor practice facility.
During the 17-minute briefing, Vikings officials uttered a variation of their “getting it right” talking point at least two dozen times.
The NFL released a statement that read, “This is a good decision that will allow Adrian Peterson to resolve his personal situation and the Vikings to return the focus to the football field.”
The NFL Players Association’s statement said Peterson “made a decision to take a voluntary leave with pay to take care of his personal and legal issues.”
Peterson was initially deactivated by the Vikings on Friday, hours after a warrant was issued in Texas, his home state. Peterson was not at TCF Bank Stadium last Sunday as the Vikings lost their home opener 30-7 to the New England Patriots. He was reinstated on Monday.
Vikings officials, including coach Mike Zimmer, said they spoke to Peterson on Tuesday, but declined to detail those conversations.
The 2012 NFL MVP issued a long statement on Monday defending his discipline of children while also admitting he regretted the extent of the injuries the child suffered.
The exempt list is used rarely, and for a variety of reasons.
In 2009, quarterback Michael Vick, then a player for the Eagles, was placed on the list as he made his return to the NFL following his prison sentence for illegal dogfighting. Last year, the Buccaneers placed running back Jeff Demps on the list as he pursued an Olympic track career.
And Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy also was put on the list Wednesday until his domestic abuse case is resolved.
In the short term, the 1-1 Vikings will carry on without their career-leading rusher.
In the long term, it is fair to wonder if this will be Peterson’s final season with the Vikings. The six-time Pro Bowler is under contract through 2017, but the salary-cap ramifications of cutting him now or after the season would not be debilitating.
The Vikings would not say whether Peterson would suit up for the organization again.
“Our focus right now today is to get this right,” Spielman said.