NFL sends mixed messages on domestic violence response

Adrian Peterson was reinstated by the Vikings Monday even as more abuse allegations surfaced.

The domestic violence controversy roiling the NFL and the nation made news on twin tracks Monday, as the league announced the appointment of new senior advisors who will help shape its policies at the same time the Minnesota Vikings welcomed back running back and accused child abuser Adrian Peterson, who was not the only player to sit out Sunday and return Monday.

The Carolina Panthers said defensive end Greg Hardy, who is appealing a domestic violence conviction, would practice and attend team meetings this week, though the Panthers stopped short of saying whether Hardy would play this Sunday. And the San Francisco 49ers said they will not bend to public pressure in the case of defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who played in the 49ers’ first two games after his Aug. 31 arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

All of these developments came against the backdrop of a video released a week earlier that showed former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice cold-cocking his future wife in a casino elevator. And so on a weekend when the NFL would have liked to wrap itself in the flag for the 200th anniversary of the national anthem, the league found itself instead at the white-hot center of a morality play about how a workplace in the public eye should respond to cases of alleged domestic violence.

“We take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child,” Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf said in a joint statement. “At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed.”.

Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ coach, said: “I’m not inserting myself into the process, one way or the other. I think that’s the right thing to do, respect the legal process, respect the due process. The authorities are at work.”.

Due process of law is a fundamental, constitutional right to fair proceedings in court, though legal experts told USA TODAY Sports it does not guarantee that employers must retain employees during court proceedings.

“Like most things in life, it’s not black and white and there’s no easy answer,” Phoenix labor and employment attorney Steven Wheeless said. “I am not aware of any state law, and there is certainly no federal law, that would require an employer to wait until someone has gone through an entire legal court system before taking action against them for some kind of alleged criminal violation.

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“That’s why my instinct is that when the Vikings are talking about ‘due process,’ what they really mean is ‘basic fairness.’ What they’re probably really saying is, ‘It’s not fair for us to suspend this guy until he’s had an opportunity to make his case and has been heard and there’s been a judgment rendered.'”.

Wheeless said many employers will suspend employees for arrests relating to drugs or DWI, for instance, though they generally don’t terminate accused employees unless convicted. “It wouldn’t be unusual for an employer to suspend an employee — with or without pay, depending on company policy — pending the outcome of a case involving off-duty theft, for instance,” he said.

Joel D’Alba, a Chicago labor and employment attorney who represents unions and employers, said employers who suspend employees for off-duty conduct will generally look for a nexus between the alleged conduct and the nature of the job. “The presumption of innocence is paramount in criminal cases,” he said, “but does not necessarily apply in employment situations.”.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters in a news conference that the team wants to leave it to the courts whether Peterson crossed a line while disciplining his son.

“We are trying to do the right thing,” Spielman said. “This is a difficult path to navigate regarding the judgment of how a parent disciplines his child. Based on the extensive information we have right now, and what we know of Adrian not only as a person but what he’s done for this community, we believe he deserves to play while the legal process plays out.”.

Scott Fujita, a former NFL linebacker, is skeptical of the Vikings’ motivation. “Why are due process rights only reserved for the privileged & for those at the top of the roster?” He tweeted.

The emphasis on due process is consistent with what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said previously. When McDonald was arrested just days after Goodell announced increased penalties for personal conduct violations — coming in the wake of his two-game suspension of Rice that was widely criticized as inadequate long before the elevator video became public — Goodell said that for the NFL to enforce that discipline an alleged offender would have to be “not only charged, but we would wait for the legal system to complete its process,” particularly for first offenders.

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Peterson was indicted by a grand jury in Montgomery County, Texas on Friday and he is free on $15,000 bond. He was deactivated for Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots but is cleared to play against the New Orleans Saints this week. “I am not a perfect parent,” Peterson said in a statement, “but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.”.

Peterson did not use the phrase due process in his statement but alluded to the concept. “I never ever intended to harm my son,” he wrote. “I will say the same thing once I have my day in court.”.


Rashida Gittens, 38, calls herself a survivor of an eight-year abusive relationship. She shared her story — and her thoughts on what she sees as the Panthers’ moral obligation — with USA TODAY Sports.

“I do absolutely feel the Panthers need to be the moral compass,” Gittens said. “These players may feel untouchable. One time, you need help. The next time, you’re done. If you feel you don’t have anyone to turn to, or anywhere you can go, then you feel alone and he’s all you have. That happens a lot unfortunately.

“This is a great opportunity to say enough is enough. It’s not something that’s just happening in your home and we should turn our back. Because it affects everybody.”.

Gittens says that at various times years ago her then-boyfriend knocked her out, pulled a gun on her, pistol-whipped her, kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with their daughter and once held them hostage at gunpoint.

She has two daughters now, 19 and 9, and she just got a third degree in human services. She says she is now in a relationship with “the greatest guy on the planet, who deals with the remnants of my previous domestic violence.”.

Gittens criticizes the Panthers’ stance that they might let Hardy play again, after sitting him on Sunday.

“I think that message is wrong because you’re saying, ‘It’s okay,'” she said. “Teams should be proactive. Because when they’re not proactive, what they’re continuing to say is, ‘It’s okay.’ Women and children are losing their lives. … I would want to have the team have a higher moral standard.”.

Gittens called on the NFL to “take this opportunity to have resources available to players and families where they can go, like a safe zone, where they can say, ‘You know what? I felt like punching my wife.’ But it’s confidential so they can get help. When players go into the league, their life issues come with them.”.

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That sort of help could be on the way. Monday Goodell sent a memo to NFL teams announcing that experts in domestic violence will serve as consultants and senior advisors to the league.

“When I saw how Ray Rice hit his fiancée in the elevator, it brought me back to where I was,” Gittens said. “I was really upset. And I thought about her response to go back, typical of a woman, because she has no one to turn to.”.


Ron Kimble, Charlotte deputy city manager, lost a daughter to domestic violence.

Jamie Christine Kimble was killed by an ex-boyfriend who then killed himself in 2012.

“My wife and I have offered our assistance to the Panthers and the NFL for us to become involved in this issue with them,” Kimble said. “That offer still stands.”.

Kimble, too, cited a form of due process. “I don’t want to go down the path of trying to determine Greg Hardy’s guilt or innocence,” he said. “The courts will do that.”.

But Kimble believes the national attention now spotlighting the enormity of the problem is all for the good.

“It’s great to bring this domestic issue to the forefront in today’s world,” Kimble said. “That’s a positive thing on a negative, negative thing. …The NFL brand is very powerful and very high. The fact that it’s being dealt with can only prove beneficial to handling this issue in society.”.

Karen Parker, former chair of the North Carolina Governor’s Domestic Violence Commission, is chief advancement officer for Safe Alliance, a help center for battered women in Charlotte. She called on the NFL to “set the higher standard if for no other reason because they are such role models for children.

“There’s a lot going on right now. The NFL teams can grasp onto it and say, ‘Wow, think of the opportunity we have here?'”.

Gittens also looks at today’s national outrage and sees opportunity.

“Domestic violence in my life is a silent evil,” she said. “For a long time, a lot of people have not paid attention to it because they consider it relational and private. Domestic violence doesn’t have to continue. It’s 100% preventable. When something has happened in darkness, it brings it into the light. The light offers the opportunity for change.”.

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