MINNEAPOLIS -- The next (and possibly final) attempt to get Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson reinstated before April 15 will begin on Friday, when U.S. District Court Judge David Doty hears arguments in the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the NFL on Peterson's behalf.
Doty, who has handed down some of the most pivotal decisions in NFL-NFLPA labor battles over the last 20-plus years, will hear 30-minute arguments from each side, as the union seeks to have Peterson reinstated immediately and the league contends that arbitrator Harold Henderson, not a federal judge, should have the final say in the matter. Peterson is expected to be in attendance at the hearing.
We'll be covering the proceedings from the Minneapolis courthouse on Friday, but here's a brief primer on what to expect:
How we got here: On Sept. 12, Peterson was indicted in Montgomery County, Texas, on one count of reckless injury to a child, stemming from a May incident in which he disciplined his 4-year-old son with a switch. After deactivating Peterson for their Sept. 14 game against the New England Patriots and initially announcing they would allow him to play during his legal proceedings, the Vikings reversed course and placed Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list on Sept. 17.
Peterson pleaded no contest to a lesser charge on Nov. 4, and after he acted on NFLPA advice and declined to attend a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell later that week, the league suspended him for the rest of the year on Nov. 18, ruling he could not be reinstated until at least April 15.
Arbitrator Shyam Das ruled against the union's grievance that Peterson should have been taken off the commissioner's exempt list immediately after his plea, and Henderson upheld Peterson's suspension in a Dec. 12 ruling, denying the NFLPA's appeal and setting the lawsuit process in motion.
What the NFLPA is arguing: The union's main argument centers around the idea that Henderson -- a former NFL executive -- was biased in favor of the league and "exceeded the scope of his authority" in upholding the suspension. The NFLPA is also arguing that Peterson was disciplined unfairly under the commissioner's updated personal conduct policy, which was enacted after Peterson's incident, and that Goodell does not have the authority to order Peterson to meet with a league-appointed counselor, as he did in his Nov. 18 letter to Peterson outlining the suspension. It seeks to have Peterson's discipline set aside and the running back reinstated immediately. Moreover, the league has taken issue with the NFL's new personal conduct policy; NFLPA president Eric Winston said during a Super Bowl news conference that the union was "going to be grieving this as far as we can." A victory over the league in court would ostensibly strengthen the NFLPA's bid to have the new policy revised. The union believes a new policy should have been collectively bargained.
What the NFL is arguing: The league says Goodell had the authority to issue the suspension he handed down to Peterson, and that the collective bargaining agreement gave him the right to appoint Henderson. The league also says the union did not effectively prove Henderson's bias, and cited a 2009 ruling in the StarCaps case, involving former Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, as precedent that disciplinary matters should be governed by the processes outlined in the CBA, not in court. The league wants Doty to uphold Henderson's ruling, giving the league power to decide when and how Peterson is reinstated.
When we can expect a ruling: Doty isn't likely to issue a decision on Friday, but the union is hoping he will rule in its favor in the next several weeks. The union would like Peterson reinstated before free agency starts on March 10, so he can maximize his market value in the event the Vikings decide to part ways with him. If Doty rules in favor of the league, it seems unlikely the union could get a hearing -- let alone a favorable ruling -- from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals before free agency, or even before April 15.