The NFL continues to find its way into the headlines but not for the best of reasons. And Commissioner Roger Goodell remains in the hot seat while several issues play out in the news with the Adrian Peterson reversal the latest in a long series of problems facing the NFL commissioner.


Adrian Peterson is a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings and one of the premier players in the National Football League. This past November, he was disciplined by the NFL for child abuse directed at his young son. In a meeting with the NFL, Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless assault on his son. He was suspended for the remainder of the year and placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. The NFL initially assigned the Peterson case to arbitrator Harold Henderson. In the aftermath, the NFLPA [National Football League Player’s Association] filed a lawsuit claiming that the suspension was unfair based on the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement} the NFLPA has with the NFL. The independent arbitrator David Doty ruled February 26 in favor of Mr. Peterson and the NFLPA agreeing that the suspension violated the CBA. This is another legal setback for Roger Goodell. His rulings were also overturned in both the Ray Rice case as well as the New Orleans bounty matter in which players were incentivized to intentionally injure other players.


The NFL has filed a Notice of Appeal with the Eighth District Court of Appeals challenging the ruling by Mr. Doty. They have also referred the case back to their arbitrator Harold Henderson who originally upheld the NFL’s suspension of Mr. Peterson. In several news reports I have read that The NFL is challenging the ruling due to their concern over establishing a precedent. However, it makes one wonder what concern they have regarding Adrian Peterson. Mr. Peterson has made tremendous contributions to the Minnesota Vikings and therefore the NFL. In his 8 year career, which was cut short after a few games last year he has produced the following:

  • Rushed for 10,190 yards
  • Receptions for 1,715 yards
  • Total Yards – 11,805
  • Touchdowns – 91 [average of 13 per year for 7 years]
  • Games 104 [3 times he has played in all 16 games on the schedule]

Mr. Peterson’s abuse of his son was terrible and he deserved punishment. He has served that punishment for the past NFL season. Now his career is at a crossroads and the NFL in the person of Roger Goodell appears unconcerned. Free agency begins March 10 and if this matter is tied up in a legal battle Mr. Peterson will be severely limited in his ability to do anything to settle his future.


Each year, Roger Goodell is seen at the NFL Draft welcoming players into the league with a big hug. He appears to be a player friendly manager. However, in both the Ray Rice case and now the Adrian Peterson case he has left both players careers in limbo. The media frenzy surrounding the prospect of Ray Rice signing with another NFL team might be more trouble than a franchise is willing to accept. It will be a media frenzy due to the mismanagement of the situation by Mr. Goodell via his attempt to punish Rice twice for the same crime. Had he handled it properly at the outset a player’s career might have been saved. Now the same situation looms ahead for Adrian Peterson.


In my book “Theory You” there are several chapters that demonstrate the management failure of the NFL Commissioner. The most glaring is his inconsistency in his handling of the two cases: Rice and Peterson. The best description of a good manager is Consistent. Mr. Goodell is not consistent. He just praised the owner of the Cleveland Browns franchise despite the fact the owner has twice had to pay severe fines for unfair business practices in his main business. For a self-titled “law and order” commissioner Mr. Goodell has an interesting track record.

A good manager establishes a culture. The NFL culture under Mr. Goodell is not a model culture. The commissioner is at odds with owners, players, and the NFLPA. Players are openly critical of him. Owners have taken him to task. The player’s association has challenged his knowledge and application of the collective bargaining agreement. And many of the NFL fans are openly critical of him.


So often in business, people both inside and outside the firm will question how a CEO is able to maintain their position in spite of poor performance. The answer in many cases is the reluctance of the board to admit they made a mistake in selecting him. His ouster is a negative mark against them. In the case of the NFL, the board consists of the 32 owners. Next up on the agenda is Deflate-gate. It has been over one month since Mr. Goodell appointed Ted Wells to investigate the matter. Mr. Goodell said it might be a few weeks. It’s now past that. And the leaks have continued despite a demand by the New England owner to tighten up his organization. Mr. Goodell does not need another failure on his desk. His handling of the Peterson appeal and the next item on the agenda should define him and his office. The next few weeks will be critical for Mr. Goodell. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.