Adrian Peterson is my father. I am his child. I have felt the bite of his tree branch on my back, my buttocks and my legs. I bruised. I bled.
And now I bleed for his four-year-old boy.
I don’t know if I’m a product of child abuse, or a survivor of child abuse. Perhaps I am an escapee. Whatever the case, I was raised in an environment of tyranny and the man who beat me with a belt buckle and the back of his hand was a flawed human being. As is Adrian Peterson.
And Peterson is among the reasons why placing professional athletes upon a pedestal is not among my weaknesses.
As much as I admire the skill of most play-for-pay jocks, I have, for the longest time, viewed them as human beings. They spit when brushing their teeth. Just like you and I. They wipe their kids’ runny noses. Just like you and I. So why wouldn’t they also rape and murder and steal and abuse and cheat and lie and get behind the wheel of a car after swilling a keg of beer?
I cannot recall the precise moment when I first stood in agreement with the reality that sports figures were mere mortals, albeit with a special talent, but I believe it wasn’t too many days removed from the Christmas morning when I discovered that Santa Claus was actually my Uncle Jim.
I mention this because of the “off with their heads” chorus that has raised its pitch in the wake of rather sordid and unlawful behaviour—not to dismiss the drama of a murder trial—that has placed athletes squarely on the human side of the playing surface in the past 10 days.
- We have seen video evidence that shows us Ray Rice punching out his financee/now wife Janay and dragging her limp body from an elevator.
- We know that Adrian Peterson took a branch from a tree and used it to administer a “whooping” on his four-year-old son, a misdeed that has drawn an indictment of child abuse in Texas.
- Many of us watched Oscar Pistorius beat a murder one rap in a South Africa court.
Rice, a running back with the Baltimore Ravens when he wasn’t laying a licking on his lady, has been banished from the National Football League. Peterson is in football purgatory, not allowed to participate in any Minnesota Vikings team functions until the Pro Bowl ball carrier’s legal situation is resolved. Pistorius, meanwhile, awaits his fate on the much lesser guilty verdict of culpable homicide in the Valentine’s Day shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and the possibility exists that the so-called Blade Runner might one day again be adorned in South African colors during athletic competition.
Domestic violence surely has provided the sports media with a new chew toy.
The pontifications have been harsh, also relentless. Voices have cried out in the manner of a righteous, traveling salvationist delivering hell-burning, Bible-thumping condemnation, not only of Rice, Peterson and others whose names have appeared on a police blotter or a court docket, but also of the NFL’s much-maligned puppet master, commissioner Roger Goodell. Scribes have dipped their pens into wells of poison ink.
Trouble is, I fear many of the people using commissioner Goodell for a pinata and tsk-tsking Rice and Peterson never gave more than five minutes of thought to domestic violence/child abuse until they viewed the evidence of Ray Rice going all Mike Tyson on his girlfriend. So am I to believe they actually now care, or are they merely pushing the hot-button issue?
I spent 30 years in mainstream media. How often was domestic violence/child abuse the topic du jour when scribes and broadcasters gathered for pints and eats? Zero.
And, please, spare me the sanctimonious spewings of Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens defender who quite possibly got away with the murder of two men 14 years ago. ESPN putting this lawbreaker in his usual spot with Boomer and the boys on Sunday NFL Countdown, and granting him voice to the trespasses of Rice and Peterson was the highest level of rancid. What next from the Worldwide Leader, Tiger Woods the marriage counselor?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad the issue is out there. It’s important that we talk about such matters so change can be affected. But, like I said, it’s a new chew toy and I worry about its shelf life.
Right now, the sports media are riding a horse named Morality and she’s been running with her ears pinned back and her nostrils flared for the past week. She is at full gallop. She’ll be reined in, though. Guaranteed. The media then will hop on another horse and take her for a ride.
Which leaves us where?
Well, at some point, Ray Rice will receive his public pardon. Ditto Adrian Peterson. This will happen because the public eventually sees itself in morality’s mirror. It has a tendency to pardon evil-doing athletes like Rice, Peterson and Michael Vick, whose lawless acts included the torture of dogs, because they themselves might have done something similar. Or perhaps their brother, sister or neighbor did.
That’s the significant reality that has been amiss in this discussion: Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice are not football players who happen to be human. They are human beings who happen to play football. Theirs, like those of all humans, are lives of imperfection, full of frailties and flaws that sometimes reach beyond any reasonable boundary of acceptance. In short, they’re going to screw up.
As much as sports can be a study in courage (not the type of courage it takes to rush into a burning building to save lives, but courage on an athletic level), it is also a study in human failings. Athletes are flawed human beings, just like your butcher, your baker and your corner grocer. The separation, of course, is that we don’t position the butcher as a role model, do we? We don’t put his picture on the front of a Wheaties box. Professional athletes, on the other hand, are role models by default, whether they like it or not. Our condemnation of their misdeeds is amplified due to the loft of their celebrity.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is also an imperfect human being. He has screwed up. But you tell me which is worse: a football commissioner who botches his ruling on domestic violence or a South African judge who lets a man get away with murder.