MINNEAPOLIS - The NFL was already under heavy criticism this week for the way it handled a domestic violence case involving a prominent player.
Now the league has another public relations problem: A charge of child abuse for an even bigger star.
Running back Adrian Peterson was indicted in Texas for using a branch to spank one of his sons and the Minnesota Vikings promptly benched him for their game Sunday against New England.
Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the charge of injury to a child accuses his client of using a "switch" to punish the boy, whose age was not disclosed.
"Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas," Hardin said Friday. "Adrian has never hidden from what happened. He has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours. Adrian will address the charges with the same respect and responsiveness he has brought to this inquiry from its beginning. It is important to remember that Adrian never intended to harm his son and deeply regrets the unintentional injury."
Peterson turned himself in early Saturday at a jail in Montgomery County, near Houston, where he has a home. He was processed and released, according to a jail records official who declined to give her full name, citing a department policy.
The Vikings, about an hour after stating their acknowledgment of the matter, said Peterson would be on the inactive list for their home opener against the Patriots.
The stunning sequence of events reignited a debate about corporal punishment but also added fuel to a fire burning hot since Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice first received a two-game suspension for hitting his then-fiancee.
An investigation headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller was convened to assess the league's handling of the situation, after a longer version of a security video surfaced revealing Rice's punch to the face of his now-wife in a casino elevator that knocked her out cold.
Acknowledging he "didn't get it right" with the initial discipline, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties for players accused of domestic violence, including six weeks for a first offense and at least a year for a second.
The league has also come under scrutiny in the cases of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, both still playing with domestic abuse cases pending. Hardy was convicted July 15 of assaulting a woman and communicating threats, but he is appealing. San Jose police have been continuing to actively investigate an Aug. 31 incident involving McDonald.
Goodell's memo sent to all 32 teams said more severe discipline will be imposed "if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child." Whether the charge against Peterson would fall under that umbrella was not immediately clear.
The NFL did not respond Friday to requests for comment on Peterson's situation.
The charge of child abuse was especially jarring, given the tragedy that unfolded around Peterson last season.
Not long after finding out that he had a 2-year-old son living in South Dakota, Peterson rushed to a hospital there after police said the boy was brutally beaten by his mother's boyfriend. The boy died, and a 28-year-old man is scheduled for trial next month on second-degree murder charges.
A man who identified himself as Peterson's uncle, Chris Peterson, answered the door at the running back's house in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, near Vikings headquarters. He said Peterson was not there and that the family had no comment.
Widely considered the best running back in the league, Peterson has rushed for 10,190 yards and 86 touchdowns in his eight-year career including a 2,097-yard season in 2012 that fell 9 yards short of the all-time record.
Peterson did not practice Thursday because of what coach Mike Zimmer called a "veteran day," allowing experienced players to rest, but Peterson was at the team facility and spoke to reporters that day about facing the Patriots. Matt Asiata is Peterson's backup.
Peterson returned to practice Friday and was in the locker room following the workout with the rest of his teammates for lunch. Shortly thereafter, Peterson posted a message on his Twitter account that said in part: "It's your season! Weapons may form but won't prosper! God has you covered don't stress or worry!"
Hardin, his defense attorney, is a familiar name in sports circles. He successfully defended Roger Clemens in his recent perjury trial over the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and two years ago represented Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, who was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading no contest to assaulting his former girlfriend.
He has worked with Peterson before, too: In 2012, he said Peterson was the victim after the player was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest following an incident at a Houston nightclub.