Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said on Wednesday that the NFL team "made a mistake" in reinstating star running back Adrian Peterson following his indictment last week on a felony child-abuse charge in Texas. Wilf’s comments came just hours after the organization decided to bar Peterson from participating in all team activities pending an outcome to his legal case — and as prominent sponsors, including Nike Inc., turned up the pressure by suspending partnerships with the team and Peterson.
"We made a mistake, and we needed to get this right," Wilf said at a news conference. "It is important to always listen to our fans, the community and our sponsors. Our goal is to always make the decision we feel is right for the Minnesota Vikings."
The Vikings had benched Peterson for last Sunday's game with New England. But the next day, the team said they would bring him back while allowing the legal process in the case to play out — a decision that was widely criticized and caused the team to backpedal and put Peterson on what is known as an Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which will prohibit him from playing but still allow him to collect his $11.75 million salary for this season.
But in light of the allegations, sponsors reacted swiftly. Nike said on Wednesday it had suspended its contract with Peterson over the allegations, saying in a news release that "Nike in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and we have shared our concerns with the NFL."
The Radisson hotel chain had already suspended its relationship with the Vikings over the Peterson situation. Mylan also said it was no longer working with Peterson to promote its EpiPen, a product used to treat allergic reactions. The running back had participated in several promotions to raise awareness for anaphylaxis, a severe type of reaction that he has dealt with in the past.
U.S. Bank, which is rumored to be in the running for the naming rights to the team's new stadium, said it was "monitoring the situation closely."
Anheuser-Busch, the NFL's official beer sponsor, publicly chastised the league on Tuesday for its handling of the Peterson case — and others.
"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season," the brewer’s statement read. "We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league." The statement was referring to a string of other high-profile domestic abuse cases that have plagued the league in recent months.
Nevertheless, Wilf said the team's decision was "absolutely not" related to sponsor concerns. Other sponsors, including Verizon Wireless, were still standing behind the Vikings and Peterson.
"We are supportive of the NFL and, at this point, we are satisfied with our sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings," Verizon said in a statement issued to The Associated Press.
The NFL Players Association said on Wednesday that Peterson "made a decision to take a voluntary leave with pay to take care of his personal and legal issues," and that it agreed with the move. But Vikings team officials made clear that the decision was made by the team, in coordination with the NFL league office.
NFL under scrutiny
Peterson is accused of injuring his 4-year-old son by spanking him with a wooden switch or tree branch in Texas earlier this year, and allegedly leaving him bruised and bloodied. Peterson faces a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, which carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His initial court appearance in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, was scheduled for Oct. 8.
"I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury. No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day," Peterson said in a statement released on Monday.
Corporal punishment is legal in Texas, and non-deadly force against a child by a parent or guardian is permissible. But the punishment is abusive if it causes injury. A blow that leaves a bruise, welt or swelling, or requires medical attention, could be judged abusive. The use of an instrument during any punishment is also listed as "cause for concern."
Meanwhile, the NFL has been under scrutiny this season for its handling of another star, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was indefinitely suspended after the release of a video showing him knocking out his then-fiancee, who he has since married.
Rice is expected to appeal that suspension on Monday. Two other players involved in domestic violence cases are under the league's microscope: Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.
Hardy, a Pro Bowl defensive end, was convicted of domestic violence charges during the summer but has appealed and is awaiting a jury trial. McDonald was arrested Aug. 31 in San Jose, California, on suspicion of felony domestic violence for allegedly beating up his pregnant fiancee.
Hardy was held out of Sunday's game, a 24-7 victory over Detroit, while McDonald played in the 49ers' 28-20 loss to Chicago.
In response to the domestic abuse cases, the NFL on Monday announced it has hired advisers and counselors to help the league combat the issue. Anna Isaacson, who was the NFL's vice president of community relations and philanthropy, is now its vice president of social responsibility.
Al Jazeera and wire services