The Minnesota Vikings and the NFL tried to weather a growing tempest Tuesday over Adrian Peterson’s return to the backfield despite his ongoing prosecution on child abuse charges.
By Wednesday morning, the Vikings had announced they have placed Peterson on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list, which will keep him away from the team while the legal process involving his child abuse case plays out.
On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton called it “an awful situation,” and Nike, which pays Peterson handsomely to endorse its products, distanced itself from the star running back.
Even Peterson’s Texas-based philanthropic foundation shut down its website, saying it was on “hiatus” and would “re-engage after Adrian, his family and staff have reflected on how the current situation impacts the direction for Adrian’s philanthropy.”
Nike’s store at the Mall of America stopped selling No. 28 jerseys, and Wheaties confirmed it had severed ties with Peterson.
In a sharp message to the NFL, corporate sponsor Anheuser-Busch said it was “increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.”
The NFL assured Anheuser-Busch, “We are taking action and there will be much more to come.”
Five days after the Vikings’ most popular player was indicted in Texas for whipping his child with a wood switch, with photos showing the child with visible wounds, the Vikings had little to say after surprisingly announcing the day before that its star player would take the field Sunday against New Orleans while his court case headed to an early October hearing.
The NFL is facing unprecedented criticism for not aggressively confronting the criminal issues involving its players.
Several of the Vikings’ corporate sponsors issued only tepid support for the team and Peterson following the announcement that Radisson, the Minnesota-based hotel chain, was suspending its corporate sponsorship. A spokesman for U.S. Bank, “the official hometown bank of the Minnesota Vikings,” said in a statement the company was “monitoring the situation closely.”
U.S. Bank President Richard Davis, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, earlier this year led Minnesota’s successful bid to host the Super Bowl in 2018.
The University of Minnesota Health also said Tuesday it was “evaluating the situation related to the Vikings sponsorship.” The Vikings Children’s Fund, one of the team’s major philanthropic initiatives, has given millions of dollars to the school’s department of pediatrics.
The fallout also trickled down to the smallest of companies. “It’s kind of a weird time for us,” said Shaun Hagglund, the owner of a sporting goods store in Minnetonka who stopped selling Peterson’s jerseys and autographed pictures. “We had little action figures of him [too]. It’s just [all] locked up.
“He was our top-selling jersey,” said Hagglund. “We had every size and style. [He was] our go-to guy” for sales.
The financial stakes remain high. During Sunday’s home game, the stadium scoreboard prominently featured the logos of Verizon and Delta Air Lines. Some corporate sponsors, however, said they were sticking with the Vikings.
The Minnesota National Guard, whose logo is displayed on the scoreboard and elsewhere in the stadium during games, said through a spokesman it “intends to continue our in-stadium advertising contract” with the team.
But there were signs that the issue was continuing to create corporate angst.
Radisson said Tuesday the company would release an expanded statement on its decision to suspend its Vikings sponsorship. But the company suddenly reversed course late in the day, and said it would have nothing more to say. Radisson’s announcement had been noteworthy because Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former board chair of Carlson, the corporate umbrella that owns Radisson, had spearheaded Minnesota’s Super Bowl bid with Davis.
Mylan, the creators of the EpiPen, who partnered with Peterson to create awareness to food allergies, said it is no long working with the running back.
A scheduled appearance by six Vikings players at the St. Joseph’s Home for Children was shelved by mutual agreement.
A local Nike store manager said Tuesday that Nike had removed Peterson’s jerseys at both a Mall of America store and an outlet store in Eagan, but referred questions to the company’s New York office.
The company, which had earlier said it was monitoring Peterson’s case and its relationship to a personal endorsement contract Peterson has with Nike, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Child’s mother upset
There was also, for the first time, a statement from the unidentified mother of the child Peterson is charged with injuring. She said through her attorney that she would not comment on the case and instead criticized the media for releasing photos of her son after the whipping and providing details of the event.
“My client is hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file,” said her attorney, Kelly Dohm of Waconia.
The trail to Peterson’s indictment, according to officials in Texas, started when the child returned from visiting his father in Texas and his mother in Minnesota took him to a routine doctor’s appointment.
The unidentified Minnesota doctor, by law required to immediately report any suspected child abuse, alerted local authorities who in turn notified police in Texas.
The case has led to a national debate over the appropriateness of physical discipline of children — Peterson said he was similarly disciplined as a child, and has said he is “not a perfect parent.”
Dayton’s comments indicated that even the state’s biggest supporter of public money for a new $1 billion Vikings stadium had reached his limit regarding Peterson. “It is an awful situation,” said the governor, who urged the team to suspend its star running back.
“His actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota,” Dayton added. “Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state.” The governor, however, reiterated his support for the franchise, saying he “will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested.”
Staff writers Matt Vensel and Master Tesfatsion contributed to this report.