Adrian Peterson Is Not Ray Rice

I started playing fantasy football this year. Previously I’d never been interested, and I never have had time with my own football seasons. However, a couple weeks ago, a friend started pestering me about joining his league. And a day before the draft, I finally capitulated. I went to the aforementioned friend’s house for the draft, and lucked out with the third pick. Now I’m more of a college football fan (Go Blue!), but if it’s Sunday and I’m not doing anything, I’ll tune in. I’ve watched more than a few NFL games in my day. I’ve also binge-watched FX’s The League more than once, so I like to think I know what I’m doing.

The entire point of this overly-wrought tale is that I drafted Adrian Peterson. With the third pick, not recognizing the names of any of the other top running backs, I went with him. This is in the interest of full disclosure: Yes, I drafted Adrian Peterson and he was supposed to be the workhorse of my fantasy team. But no, I have no emotional attachment to him and this in no way affects what I am about to write.

For those who don’t know, Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child on Friday, turning himself in to the police and posting a $15,000 bond. These charges stem from what he refers to as a “whooping” he gave his 4-year-old son with a switch, which lefts welts and some small cuts on the child’s legs (pictures from TMZ). According to his lawyer, he has fully cooperated with the investigation and has testified before a grand jury. The Vikings deactivated him for Sunday’s game against the Patriots soon after the news was released.

What makes Adrian’s actions particularly harrowing is that they come in the wake of the Ray Rice incident earlier this week. Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL earlier in the year after a video surfaced from an Atlantic City casino showing Rice dragging his then-fiance’s unconscious body out of an elevator. The short suspension and light court sentence left many angered, and these fires were rekindled tenfold when the video inside the elevator surfaced last Monday. With the tape showing Rice brutally striking his now-wife, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, and the Ravens dropped him from the team.

To have two elite running backs charged with domestic violence against their loved ones in one week is shocking. The internet is calling for blood. My favorite outrage website, where I go to read articles that confirm my opinions, had commenters calling for jail time for Peterson, a lifetime ban from the NFL, and even retribution. It’s good that this is not how we decide innocence and sentencing, because Adrian Peterson is not Ray Rice.

Child abuse is wrong. I believe that was decided at the Council of No Shit in the year Forever. If you ask Adrian Peterson what he thinks of child abuse, I’m 99.9% sure he would say it’s despicable. However, if you asked him a month ago what he had done to his child, he would say it was discipline and necessary. This is the disconnect between the Peterson and Rice case. Rice knew what he was doing was wrong and horrible, yet he still punched his then-fiance off her feet. Peterson thought what he was doing was right, and was even remorseful about how far he went. My dad spanked me as a child. It was always over the clothes and on soft tissue and always preceded and succeeded by a long, boring lecture about how what I did was wrong and how I should act in the future. My punishments weren’t malicious, and neither were those that Adrian administered. By that I mean it wasn’t done in the heat of the moment. Peterson testified that his son had pushed another child off of a motorbike video game, and that he took the child aside and explained why his actions were wrong. I’m not saying this excuses the beating, any parent that leaves welts, bruises, and cuts on their child has gone over the line.

The problem is that this line between ‘proper’ corporeal punishment and child abuse is murky. It’s poorly defined in the legal system, and is really up to the subjective judgement of the judge and jury. These judgments can differ along racial, cultural, and religious lines, as well as the level of education and the upbringing of the individual. Charles Barkley, while discussing the case, said these ‘whippings’ are common among Southern black families and that he experienced them when he was younger. Other commentators, such as those on Fox NFL Sunday, were obviously uncomfortable trying to discuss these social issues in a politically correct manner. Even the normally boisterous and country-eloquent Terry Bradshaw was subdued, mumbling words that didn’t really seem to form a coherent thought. But NFL Countdown host Cris Carter had an emotional response to the ‘That’s How They Were Raised” argument that is definitely worth a watch.

Take ’em off the field. Even if the courts find him innocent (and this is the Texas justice system we’re talking about here), he needs to take some time away from the violence of football and get his life together. He needs to learn how to be a parent in the 21st century. Whether that is a ruling handed down from the NFL to take classes or, if found guilty, handed down by the courts, it needs to happen. Not so he can get back on the field, but so he can raise intelligent, happy, well-adjusted children that can be successful in life.

As a friend said when I asked him his opinion on the case, To Train Up A Child this isn’t. Peterson didn’t lock his children outside in the freezing cold. He didn’t starve them. But his actions were still beyond the pale and need to be rectified. I don’t believe that means he deserves the same treatment as Ray Rice. Rice hit his then-fiance because he was mad. For Peterson, the beating was not out of malice but a misguided idea of love. But that’s not what love is. He just needs to learn that.

Update 9/17 9:09 a.m. – Adrian Peterson, after briefly having been reinstated, was put on the Exempt-Commissioner’s Permission List by the Vikings, barring him from all team activities. The organization released this statement:

This has been an ongoing and deliberate process since last Friday’s news. In conversations with the NFL over the last two days, the Vikings advised the League of the team’s decision to revisit the situation regarding Adrian Peterson. In response, the League informed the team of the option to place Adrian on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which will require that Adrian remain away from all team activities while allowing him to take care of his personal situation until the legal proceedings are resolved. After giving the situation additional thought, we have decided this is the appropriate course of action for the organization and for Adrian.

We are always focused on trying to make the right decision as an organization. We embrace our role – and the responsibilities that go with it – as a leader in the community, as a business partner and as an organization that can build bridges with our fans and positively impact this great region. We appreciate and value the input we have received from our fans, our partners and the community.

While we were trying to make a balanced decision yesterday, after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian. We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right. At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community. Adrian emphasized his desire to avoid further distraction to his teammates and coaches while focusing on his current situation; this resolution accomplishes these objectives as well.

We will support Adrian during this legal and personal process, but we firmly believe and realize this is the right decision. We hope that all of our fans can respect the process that we have gone through to reach this final decision.

This is the right move by the organization and, as I wrote above, would allow him to concentrate on his situation and learn what he did wrong, which is the most important thing at this point.