“It’s a business.”
That statement is thrown around left and right in relation to the NFL, despite the fact that the league is technically a non-profit that circulates more than $9.5 billion of revenue each year. We hear it used when a player who has spent 10 years on one team signs a max deal with a rival team. We hear it when players are traded for the 5th time in four years. We hear it when a stadium in Texas costs $2 billion to build and is home to a $60 pizza. And yet, in another extremely tumultuous week in the NFL that has seen multiple transactions involving high-profile players, the term “business” has been largely absent. That’s because the NFL’s business moves in the wake of multiple domestic violence incidents have been cloaked as caring attempts to fix hugely serious issues and “get it right.”
This weekend Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy will not be under the lights facing off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will be watching the game as a highly experienced observer while collecting $771,529, one week’s worth of his $13.1 million 2014-’15 salary.
This weekend Adrian Peterson, Vikings MVP running back and arguably the best offensive player in the NFL, will similarly not be between end zones staring down New Orleans’ defense. He will be an outsider looking in while bringing in $691,000, 1/16 of his $11.75 million 2014-’15 salary.
Both players were placed on the “Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List” this week, Peterson because he was indicted for child abuse and Hardy because he is in the process of appealing a verdict that found him guilty of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.
So what is the Exempt List exactly? The NFL Player Personnel Policy Manual reads as follows:
“The Exempt List is a special player status available to clubs only in unusual circumstances. The List includes those players who have been declared by the Commissioner to be temporarily exempt from counting within the Active List limit. Only the Commissioner has the authority to place a player on the Exempt List; clubs have no such authority, and no exemption, regardless of circumstances, is automatic. The Commissioner also has the authority to determine in advance whether a player’s time on the Exempt List will be finite or will continue until the Commissioner deems the exemption should be lifted and the player returned to the Active List.”
That’s the legal definition. But in relation to these situations, the Exempt List is a middle ground that serves each party (the NFL, the team, the player, the agent, and the player’s association) in one way or another. It’s all about public perception and keeping the multiple parties happy. The Exempt list is a business transaction. It’s a chess move.
To the general populous, the casual NFL fans (who make up about 60 percent of American citizens, by the way), it’s going to look like Peterson and Hardy are suspended. Fans won’t see them on the field and will notice they lost their No. 1 fantasy football pick and assume that the NFL made a strong move to suspend the players. It’s a good look for the NFL to people who aren’t going to realize that the Panthers and the Vikings had to be forced into sitting their All-Pros and have been scrambling to figure out a plan that fronts as a moral punishment but is more of a deal for the involved parties.
Peterson and Hardy benefit from this because they’re still getting their cash. Sure, they don’t get to play the game they supposedly live and die for, but they were going to be punished either way. Agreeing to be on this exempt list (that’s how the teams and the NFL are phrasing it) gives these star players cash and a secure position to come back to once their cases have concluded. It’s like the teams are giving them a good-faith investment and a pat on the back that they’ll be there when they get back. Even with the ruling that these players are not allowed to participate in team activities, they can still be around the team facilities. Aside from losing some sponsorships, Peterson and Hardy are getting a pretty solid deal here.
Commissioner Roger Goodell takes a winning slice of this, as well. Despite Goodell technically being the only person who can actually grant this exemption, the ordeals have been sold as 100 percent team and player decisions. Goodell wasn’t at the Vikings press conference yesterday morning. The Vikings owners were, trying to make everybody forget they were originally planning to play Peterson this weekend by repeating a variation of “this is the right thing to do” as many times as possible. Goodell hasn’t been seen since he filmed a tightly controlled interview last week. The PR logic seems obvious: If he doesn’t talk, he can’t lie.
And so, all parties survive to live another day. According to New York Post NFL writer Bart Hubbuch, the Vikings will not release Peterson, but they would consider trading him IF the situation worsens (i.e. look for the videotape). Even then, Minnesota would be thinking of it as a transaction. “Look, we’re getting rid of him!” they would shout to the world while they have some other team taking on his large contract and giving the Vikes something in return. After screwing up by originally activating Peterson on Monday, the NFL steered Minnesota into the direction they should have chosen in the first place. Although the Vikings are trying to put on a show of doing the “right thing,” this mess has only made clearer than ever the real focus of the NFL.
Money rules. It’s a business, after all.