It’s no big secret the NFL has been suffering from a major image problem lately. From Ray Rice, to Greg Hardy, to Ray McDonald – heck lets back up a year and include others like Aaron Hernandez in the mix, a very violent mix. And now of course we have Adrian Peterson. The face of a franchise and arguably the best player in the league is now the image we see every time we turn on SportsCenter, CNN, Good Morning America or just the local news, and not in a positive light.
I’ve been kind of sitting on this article, waiting for more facts to come in, but unlike the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings and their convenient veil of “due-process,” I’d seen more than enough when this story first broke. Mr. Peterson may or may not belong behind bars, but he certainly doesn’t belong on the football field this Sunday, as it appeared he was going to be after the Vikings reinstated him this week. If this situation wasn’t one of such a serious and disturbing nature, I would say its almost comical the way its been handled. The Vikings first suspended Peterson last week after news of the charges became public, and he missed Sunday’s game (a 30-7 home loss to the Patriots). Then on Monday Vikings GM Rick Spielman was trotted out in front of the media to announce that “after taking a step back to gather information” the club had decided to reinstate their star running back. I have to assume that the “information” is the same that I saw, and that Cris Carter saw, and that Boomer Esiason saw, and that millions of others saw and found so disturbing. A 4-year-old child with severe whip marks over his entire body, including his genitals, to the point where blood was drawn – and, of course, that his team was significantly worse when Peterson wasn’t in the backfield. That led to a decision to reinstate Peterson.
Then just hours after Mr. Spielman hopped off his purple soap box, KHOU-TV in Houston presented photos of another one of Peterson’s children, this one showing head wounds on a different 4-year-old. Law enforcement officials confirmed knowledge of the allegations by the child’s mother that Peterson was responsible for the injuries, and that she had reported the incident to child protective services when the injury occurred last year. Peterson’s attorney Rusty Hardin claims the mother of the child was just “shopping around false allegations” – but for what purpose? To what gain? Hardin also stated, “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.” But now just two days later the Vikings have once again changed direction, responding in no doubt to the intensified heat that they’ve felt, and they’ve placed Peterson on the NFL exempt list and suspended him from all team activities.
Unfortunately the ignorant way of thinking that Hardin used to defend Peterson’s actions seems to be all-too prevalent. A prime example were Charles Barkley’s responsive comments after he heard Esiason speak out against Peterson. “I’m from the South,” Barkley said. “I understand Boomer’s rage and anger … but he’s a white guy and I’m a black guy. I don’t know where he’s from, I’m from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the south is going to be in jail under those circumstances…I think the question about whether Adrian Peterson went overboard … Listen, Jim, we all grow up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances.”
But the recurring cop-outs of “that’s how I was disciplined” or “that’s how we do it in the South” just don’t hold up under legal or moral scrutiny. The excuse of being from the South is an archaic argument at best. It’s one you’d expect to hear spewing from behind the white hood of the Grand Wizard of the KKK when justifying their acts of hatred and violence, and it should be given the same amount of credibility in this situation – none. Society changes and so do our values and what is deemed acceptable behavior. For instance, when I was a child we didn’t wear seat belts in cars or helmets when riding bikes. It was acceptable and the norm. But today it isn’t. In fact, one is now illegal and I promise the other will get you glares from other parents in the neighborhood. Smoking used to be commonplace on airplanes. Now, thankfully, it is illegal as well. Just because Dad or Grandpa used to do something one way doesn’t mean it should be allowed today. And the beating of a defenseless child is a prime example of this.
Ever since the Ray Rice story hit I’ve been wondering when the corporate America kickback to these types of crimes was coming – and yes I’m calling them crimes whether there are convictions or not (just see the Rice case as to know why). Surely sponsors had to be thinking twice about being associated with a league with so many image issues, right? After all, when a senile old man made racial remarks in the privacy of his own home to someone he trusted (however misguided that trust was), the outrage toward the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA was swift and significant. Sponsors started dropping like flies. I think there’s an old saying that is apropos here; “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Well I guess the tree limb that Peterson used to severely “whip” his 4-year old son doesn’t qualify as a “stick” in the minds of people like Sir Charles. But the “names” that Donald Sterling used sure got Barkley and everyone else fired up and ready for action. Which is truly worse? In my mind its no contest.
Now, finally, the first corporate domino has fallen, with Radisson Hotels withdrawing their sponsorship of the Vikings. Nicely done, Radisson, but in the grand scheme fairly insignificant. The first really big gun, however, was fired yesterday as well, as the NFL was put on notice when league mega-sponsor Anheuser-Busch released the following statement; “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed the NFL season. 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.” Kudos A-B. Your move NFL.
What Ray Rice was caught on video doing was reprehensible, savage and cowardly. What it says about his now wife, that she stayed with him and married him after that incident, is a different article for another time. But she is an adult who has chosen to stay by his side. Peterson’s child is 4 years old and doesn’t have the luxury of making his own choice. And what makes this all the more difficult for me to digest is that another 2-year-old son of Peterson’s was beaten to death just last year by the mother’s boyfriend. Granted Peterson didn’t know the child (or that he even existed), but you’d certainly think it had to be traumatic none-the-less when he was informed of the death, and an eye opener for him regarding child abuse. Or not.
The Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton released the following statement yesterday, “It’s an awful situation. Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be innocent until proven guilty. However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota. I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.” I was finally in agreement with a politician, and perhaps his statement helped the Vikings make what should have been an obvious decision.
Peterson’s first court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 8. But for now the ball is once again in the suddenly seemingly inept hands of Roger Goodell, who has been silent on the subject to this point. Here’s hoping he learned a lesson on how NOT to handle a situation like this from the fiasco with Ray Rice.