By JOHN ZAKOUR
The Vikings said Adrian Peterson is going to play this Sunday. Football wise, the reasons couldn’t be more clear. Peterson is their best player and the Vikings were pummelled by the Pats without him. Adrian Peterson might be the greatest football player I’ve ever watched. On the shortlist is Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning and Peterson. Aaron Rodgers and JJ Watt are up there as well. But I’m here to talk about Adrian Peterson. The Vikings once said they’re going to play him until his trial, innocent until proven guilty. I, much like Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and senator Al Franken, don’t believe Peterson should play Sunday, or any Sunday for quite some time. And the Vikings did give in to the public pressure, and have now deactivated him. That’s the right decision now, even if the Vikings went about it the wrong way.
This isn’t me feigning outrage, or just saying things that are easy for me to say. I have a five year old cousin about the age of Peterson’s son, and I can’t even fathom hitting him once. I can’t imagine hitting him more than once, several times, with a tree branch until his legs were cut up — which is what Peterson did. When I close my eyes and visualize hitting my cousin like Peterson hit his own son, I cringe. It’s sickening. How could a grown man do that? What Peterson did was inexcusable and borders on despicable. I don’t care if that’s what happened to Peterson as a child, as some are using culture as an excuse (just like how Vick initially excused his heinous crime). Progress is defined by something once acceptable gradually becoming unacceptable.
I want to be clear. I’m not a Vikings fan, but I have always rooted for Peterson. His 2012 season is the most impressive one I’ve ever seen from a running back, and I wanted him to get his record that he fell a handful of yards short of holding. None of that changes after hearing about his indictment in Texas. None of that changes how great Adrian Peterson was when he donned the purple and gold and carrying the Vikings. When I’m older, I’m still going to look up his highlights with nostalgia. I’m going to remember how close him and Brett Favre came to the Super Bowl in 2009, how much they were robbed of an NFC title.
And now there’s this, that Peterson is indicted on child abuse. That Peterson allegedly has a “whooping room” and regularly administers “whoopings” to his kids. Pictures show his son, only four years old, with lacerations covering his leg from his father’s punishment that he doled out with a branch.
Now, I know I run the risk of trying Peterson in the court of public opinion. But his lawyer and Peterson are not actually denying these charges, just downplaying them. Peterson isn’t so much claiming he’s innocent as he is saying it’s not really that bad. He is, however, denying the new allegation that has come up. So that’s fine, I’ll let that be. But the fact of the matter is no one is denying the events that led to the pictures we all saw. And what I saw was not something that should be easily forgotten.
That this happened on the heels of the Ray Rice incident (and Greg Hardy to a lesser extent) is bad for the NFL, Roger Goodell, and Peterson. But it really shouldn’t matter. I don’t know how similar the incidents are, aside from involving high profile NFL running backs. I do think Goodell has done a poor job as commissioner, during a commissionship that largely is just a PR job given the popularity of the NFL — but that’s for another column. It’s getting harder to follow football when things like this keep breaking. And these incidents aren’t anything new, we just can hear about them much more frequently. Our father’s and grandfather’s heroes were just as troubled. But the beat writers were the only access, and would actually cover up personal issues. However, I was able to enjoy football all the same this week without Peterson and Rice. But I think Peterson needed to be deactivated (or even cut) from the Vikings and suspended from the NFL — criminal charges or not — indefinitely, at least a full year and show real remorse and change before being reinstated. It won’t feel right if Adrian Peterson is making it tough on opposing defenses and amazing us this Sunday, like any other Sunday. The conduct policy of the NFL would really be meaningless.
If there is a broader point to be extrapolated from an awful week off the field in the NFL, it’s that there are no idols. No real heroes. NFL players and stars are as troubled and flawed as we are, as imperfect as our coworkers and ourselves. Having an amazing skill or talent doesn’t make them any different. The fact that so many people loved, and still love, Peterson, that he had so much to lose, never really enters the equation. He did what he did, and he most likely won’t change unless he’s forced to. So that leaves us, as fans, with two options: stop watching or detach ourselves from the off the field incidents that litter the NFL now. I know I can’t stop following — I’m too addicted, and probably will be for life. I have to detach myself, and live with the hypocrisy of supporting this league. Sometimes as sports fans, we act like we know athletes personalities and personas. Not anymore. When I watch, I’ll just watch. I won’t pretend I understand what goes on inside any player’s head or know any athlete, even remotely. But I know I’ll still watch every Sunday.