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Adrian Peterson suspension: Is the NFL cracking down on domestic abuse? (+video)

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been suspended without pay for an 'incident of abusive discipline.' The league had previously suspended him with pay for the same incident. Why the sudden turnaround?

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    Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson speaks to the media after pleading no contest to an assault charge in Conroe, Texas, Nov. 4. The NFL suspended Adrian Peterson without pay for at least the remainder of the season. The league said Tuesday, it informed the Minnesota Vikings running back he will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15 for violating the NFL personal conduct policy.
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The National Football League has suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson without pay for at least the remainder of the 2014 season, the NFL announced Tuesday

Mr. Peterson violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy after an "incident of abusive discipline" toward his 4-year-old son. He was indicted in September for hitting and injuring his son with a tree branch, known as a "switch." Earlier this month, he pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor reckless assault, a move that prevented him from serving jail time and which paved the way for the NFL's Tuesday decision. 

The length of his suspension hinges on the successful completion of the counseling and treatment program the league recommended for him. 

In a letter to Peterson outlining the treatment program, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote:

The timing of your potential reinstatement will be based on the results of the counseling and treatment program set forth in this decision. Under this two-step approach, the precise length of the suspension will depend on your actions. We are prepared to put in place a program that can help you to succeed, but no program can succeed without your genuine and continuing engagement. You must commit yourself to your counseling and rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy.

This announcement comes at a time when the NFL is struggling to repair its image in the wake of a series of domestic abuse scandals among several high-profile players. And the methods for handling the different cases have highlighted discrepancies in the ways the NFL chooses to dole out punishment. 

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who is serving an indefinite suspension from the NFL after video footage surfaced documenting him assaulting his then-fianceé earlier this year, is waiting to hear how a US judge will rule in his appeal. He is arguing that the indefinite suspension was actually a second punishment for the same offense that had already given him a two-game suspension. Should the judge rule in his favor, Mr. Rice will be eligible to play again right away, provided he can find a team that would put him on its roster, according to NBC Sports

For his part, Mr. Goodell has publicly offered several reforms to the league's discipline policies relating to cases involving domestic violence. Reforms include consulting with outside experts, punishing behavior deemed "unacceptable," establishing a committee to oversee the league's rules governing player conduct, and donating to organizations that work to prevent sexual abuse and domestic violence.  

Goodell modified the NFL Personal Conduct Policy in August and instituted a baseline level of suspension without pay for six games for offenses such as domestic violence, assault, or battery. However, Peterson has been on the commissioner's exempt list since Sept. 17, which meant he was still paid for the games he was forced to miss. 

Goodell's August modification also labeled certain "aggravating circumstances" that would justify harsher discipline, according to NBC Sports. Goodell's letter addressed several such instances in Peterson's case. They include: injuring a child who was too young to defend himself or call for help; the repeated use of the switch in the hands of a professional athlete, making it "the functional equivalent of a weapon"; and the fact that Peterson has "shown no meaningful remorse" for his conduct, as indicated by the fact that he did not say he would stop hitting his kids after being indicted. 

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) released a statement Tuesday morning saying it will appeal Peterson's suspension. It said the discipline imposed on Peterson was "inconsistent" and called for a "neutral arbiter to oversee the appeal."

The NFLPA further argued that an NFL executive had told Peterson that his time spent on the commissioner's list counted as "time served." 

"We call on the NFL Management Council to show our players and our sponsors leadership by committing to collective bargaining so a fair personal conduct policy can be implemented as quickly as possible," the statement reads.

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