CONROE, Texas — Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson avoided jail Tuesday by reaching a deal with Texas prosecutors to resolve a child abuse case that revived a national debate about corporal punishment.
Peterson was sentenced to a form of probation after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son. It was not immediately clear how the plea deal would affect his playing status or whether he might be subject to a new NFL policy that calls for a six-game suspension without pay for a first domestic violence offense.
The All-Pro running back was indicted in September on a felony charge of injury to a child after the incident earlier this year in suburban Houston. He has been on paid leave under a special exemption from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I stand here and I take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than anyone of you could even imagine and I’m anxious to continue my relationship with my child,” Peterson said outside the courthouse after accepting the plea deal.
“I’m just glad this is over,” he added. “I can put this behind me, and me and my family can continue to move forward.”
He was not allowed to be near his son while the case was pending, but now can resume having contact with the boy.
“Adrian wants to get on with his life and have his relationship with his son and get back to playing football,” Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league “cannot provide a timetable” for that.
“We will review the matter, including the court record, and then make a determination on his status,” McCarthy said.
Peterson is one of a handful of NFL players who have been involved in domestic violence cases lately, including Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer and, most infamously, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
After receiving plenty of criticism for initially handing Rice only a two-game suspension, Goodell announced in August that he was toughening the league’s punishments for domestic violence.
Attention to the issue rose considerably in September, when a video surfaced showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancee — and now wife — in a casino elevator; he soon was cut by the Ravens and indefinitely barred by the league.
Peterson has said he never intended to harm his son and was disciplining him in the same way he had been as a child growing up in East Texas. The boy suffered cuts, marks and bruising to his thighs, back and one of his testicles, according to court records.
Peterson had tentatively been set to go on trial Dec. 1. If he had been convicted of the felony charge, he could have faced up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Instead, he received two years of deferred adjudication, a form of probation. He was fined $4,000 and must complete parenting classes and perform 80 hours of community service.
His no contest plea wasn’t an admission of guilt but was treated as such for sentencing.
Peterson will have no travel restrictions. If he completes his probation without incident, the misdemeanor charge will be removed from his record.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said he believed the plea agreement was in the best interest of Peterson’s son.
“The probation is all about making him a better parent,” Ligon said.
Last month, a visiting judge denied a request by prosecutors to have a new judge appointed to the case. Prosecutors had accused Montgomery County state District Judge Kelly Case of being biased against them.
The plea deal made moot a pending motion by prosecutors to revoke Peterson’s $15,000 bond for alleged marijuana use while he was out of bond. Peterson will, however, be subject to random drug tests under the agreement.
Corporal punishment is on the decline in the U.S. but still widely practiced in homes and schools. In every state in the country, a parent can legally hit their child as long as the force is “reasonable.” But what’s considered reasonable varies from place to place.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office notes that belts and brushes “are accepted by many as legitimate disciplinary ‘tools,’” but “electrical or phone cords, boards, yardsticks, ropes, shoes, and wires are likely to be considered instruments of abuse.”
Texas law says the use of non-deadly force against someone younger than 18 is justified if a parent or guardian “reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.”
Ligon said the decision to indict Peterson was “a reflection that this went beyond what was reasonable in regards to being a parent. I believe Mr. Peterson is accepting responsibility.”