(Reuters) - The National Football League believes the Adrian Peterson child punishment case has an important ripple-effect, but his lawyer insists Commissioner Roger Goodell is making the Minnesota Vikings running back a scapegoat.
NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash on Wednesday defended Goodell's decision to suspend Peterson for at least the rest of the season for an "incident of abusive discipline" on his 4-year-old son.
Pash told ESPN Radio the NFL had a responsibility to players "unfairly tarnished by the misconduct of a few," and to the fight against domestic abuse.
"One thing that Commissioner Goodell is absolutely committed to is to upholding not only the reputation of the league but the reputation of the thousands of men who play in the league and who are good, hard-working, decent, law-abiding citizens," Pash said.
Rusty Hardin, who represented Peterson in the Texas criminal case over injuries his son sustained from discipline he administered, said Peterson's no-contest plea to a misdemeanor assault charge did not rise to domestic abuse.
"A father believed he had the right to discipline his children. He made a mistake. In unintended consequences, his son was hurt," Hardin said earlier on Wednesday to ESPN Radio.
"He pled to a court and accepted punishment and wanted to resume his career, and now the NFL has decided they’re going to be the arbiter of what’s appropriate discipline for a child and whether a person is or is not feeling significant remorse."
Peterson, originally charged with a felony, was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine by the court and perform community service.
In an open letter to Peterson, Goodell said Peterson had "shown no meaningful remorse."
"They looked bad in the earlier things with Ray Rice," Hardin said about the domestic abuse case by the former Baltimore Ravens running back captured by hotel security cameras.
"They handled things badly publicly and now they just decided to make Adrian the scapegoat for all their past failings."
Hardin said Goodell was “hypocritically self-righteous about Adrian not showing sufficient remorse. Who in the hell does he think he is?”
Pash said reaction to the Rice case had galvanized the NFL into action.
"We’re not prepared right now to hold ourselves up as the paragon for all of society," Pash said. "But we do think that the NFL has a role to play. We can set a good example."
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York