ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!?!?!? We Minnesotans are. With the return of Teddy Bridgewater poised to build on his highly successful rookie season, the addition of speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace to give Teddy that deep threat and, as the experts like to say, take the top off the defense, and another anticipated year of defensive improvement under the auspices of head coach and defensive guru Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings are almost a lock to win the division, the Super Bowl, and launch a dynasty that will undoubtedly endure well into the next decade.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned our secret weapon: former MVP and freak of nature Adrian Peterson, who coming off a year of rest and resentment, looks again ready to transcend the limitations of age and physics and have a career year at 30 years old. But there is a problem with our secret weapon, and it has nothing to do with what he does on the football field. The problem is how we as fans can justify cheering for a man who, less than a year ago, beat the shit out of his own child with a tree branch.
This is not a problem for all Vikings fans. Some people are better at separating their moral compasses from their purple pride than others. But for those of us who struggle with said separation, the Minnesota Vikings, and the National Football League in general, are becoming more difficult to watch. Between the less-than-admirable off-the-field behavior of far too many players, the hostage holding of fans and taxpayers by billionaire owners to get stadiums built that enrich the owners while leaving the un-rich unable to afford entrance to stadium that their tax dollars paid for, and the increasing body of knowledge about head injuries that makes the game of professional football feel like a blood sport unseen since the times of the Roman Empire, there are a wealth of reasons for the morally righteous to leave their TV’s turned off on Sundays.
But perhaps for the purple, there is a justification—a way to celebrate an Adrian Peterson touchdown while keeping one’s moral compass intact.
First, a disclaimer: the sport of professional football and any importance that we attach to it pales in comparison to the importance of the domestic issues at play in this story, first and foremost of which is the health and well-being of Adrian Peterson’s son. Though this article is, in essence, a football take, this take is not being made in negligence nor ignorance of what is really important.
Back to morality. The struggle I personally have has nothing to do with Adrian Peterson the player and everything to do with Adrian Peterson the person. Like everybody, I was horrified last year when news of the events surfaced, and even more horrified upon seeing the pictures. But what I was never onboard with were the Adrian Peterson character assassinations, the people who declared Adrian Peterson a bad person, or even a monster.
Don’t get me wrong. What Adrian Peterson did to his son was abhorrent and unequivocally wrong, both legally and morally. I supported all sanctions and punishments levied by both the NFL and the legal system, and would definitely put myself in the crowd that believed said sanctions and punishments did not go far enough. That being said, I do not feel that, in spite of the horrifying results of his actions, I can condemn Adrian Peterson as a human being.
To flesh out this sentiment, it is perhaps best to offer a comparison between the actions of Adrian Peterson and the actions of the other NFL bad guy from 2014, Ray Rice. On September 8, 2014, a video surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancé Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City elevator. The case of Rice and Peterson share many similarities: both are cases of domestic abuse, both are cases in which the victim was relatively defenseless…But there is one key difference, a difference which, I believe, should be taken into account when we judge Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice as human beings, and in turn, how we feel about them as players on our football teams.
The key difference is the moral context in which the two men committed their abuses. By this I mean the two men’s understanding of morality, what is right and what is wrong. When Ray Rice punched his fiancé in the face, he knew it was wrong. He knew it before he did it, he knew it when he did it, and he knew it after he did it. It may have been a momentary lapse in judgment, a brief break with Rice’s normally upstanding character, but either way, Rice consciously made a decision that he knew to be morally incorrect.
Adrian Peterson’s situation is different. When Adrian Peterson laid his child over his knee and proceeded to brutally beat his legs and buttocks with a stick, he was not only ignorant to the fact that what he was doing was wrong, he believed that what he was doing was right. Adrian Peterson truly believed that what he was doing was what a morally correct father does in order to ensure that his son grows up to himself become a morally correct human being.
Does this excuse Adrian Peterson’s actions? Absolutely not. As I stated above, Adrian Peterson deserved every punishment and sanction he received from both the NFL and the legal system, and probably deserved worse. However, it does change the way that I personally look at Adrian as a human being.
Adrian Peterson was a prisoner to the ignorance in which he was raised (all of us are, really.) He was raised in a culture where the use of a switch was both a tolerated and encouraged form of discipline. His father beat him as a child, and he turned out alright. In Adrian’s mind, he was just doing what good dads do.
Ray Rice is different. Ray Rice may or may not have witnessed spousal abuse growing up. I don’t know. But what I do know is that if he did witness spousal abuse, he was never under the impression that that was an OK thing to do. There is not a place in the United States where spousal abuse is not taboo. It may be something that in some parts is tragically common, but nowhere is it something that is morally correct. Spanking, on the other hand, is.
Thankfully, that is changing. If there is anything good that came from the Adrian Peterson case, it is the national awareness that was hopefully raised about the fact that hitting your children, even on the butt, is indeed child abuse and is never OK. Furthermore, we desperately, desperately hope that Adrian Peterson has learned from his grave mistakes, and that future beatings that his son may have received will now never happen.
But all things considered, can we justify rooting for Adrian Peterson? Has Adrian Peterson truly learned his lesson? Some of his own ill-timed comments would suggest that he hasn’t, but he has apologized numerous times and claims to be a reformed man and father.
You may believe, as I do, that his sentence should have been much more severe, but the fact is that his sentence has been served. He deserves a second chance. I just wish that second chance would have been somewhere else.
I’ll still be watching on Sundays, offering my patronage to a league, a sport, and a team that fly in the face of many of my moral values. I’m a hypocrite like that. As for Adrian, we’ll see how I feel after he scores that first touchdown. Maybe having him on my fantasy football team would help to counteract some of the guilt I might feel.
So in closing, will I cheer for Adrian Peterson? Probably. He’s a Viking, and I bleed purple no matter which direction my moral compass points. And, am I ready for some football? I guess. But not as ready as I used to be.