The Adrian Peterson case has been bungled on every side. For Peterson, hiring a famous and feisty defense lawyer is a mistake. His is not a case you want to fight, nor do you want to attract any more attention than necessary. He is not, like Roger Clemens, denying he did it; nor is he realistically facing jail time. Say you made a mistake, throw yourself on the mercy of the prosecutor and court, who have no grudge against a local football hero, and negotiate the best plea bargain you can. If you’re humble about it and accept your punishment, you have a chance of rehabilitating yourself in many, not all, people’s eyes. It’s also the quickest way to get back on the football field. Waiting for the “legal process” to resolve the case is a recipe for a slow death.
The Vikings are up there with AD when it comes to bungling. Suspending Peterson for the game the day after the indictment was the right call, and an easy one. How they came to reinstate him two days later is unfathomable. When they did suspend him again the next day it no longer had the sense of being right in any moral sense because it appeared to be a reaction to the unanimous protests from the sponsors, press, public and politicians.
Roger Goodell and the NFL round out the triangle of bunglers. Goodell was already in an untenable position as a result of his mishandling of the Ray Rice fiasco and the glaring inconsistencies in his treatment of player misconduct. He suspended Rice indefinitely for the same conduct he had previously suspended him only two games for, and Rice was facing no criminal charges. At the same time, he has taken no action against the Panthers’ Greg Hardy, who was not only indicted, but convicted, of domestic violence. Nor had he set up a system of standards for these issues, preferring instead to make himself judge and jury. The NFL would do itself a favor if it left Goodell take early retirement.
What should happen to Peterson? There should be punishment, but it should fit the crime. Whipping your child is bad, but it doesn’t disqualify you from ever playing football again. Without excusing Peterson, there is a strong element of cultural ignorance in his conduct, not malice. I have no reason to doubt the many voices from the South, especially among African-American athletes, who testify to having been beaten by their parents. Peterson was, at best, an absentee father, which no doubt contributed to his ignorance. If he was suspended for, say, six games, the NFL would have made its point – that’s enough to disrupt the Vikings’ season – and Peterson would surely have learned from his mistake. Our society believes in reinstating wrongdoers after they “pay their debt,” and this situation surely fits that bill.
There is one more factor that I briefly alluded to above that causes me to wonder. Peterson was not married to this boy’s mother. In fact, we are told, Peterson has fathered six children by different women, none his wife (although he did get married, I presume to one of them, earlier this year). Isn’t this an equal cause for opprobrium?, yet no one seems to be condemning Peterson on these grounds. Is this our implicitly racist view that these things will happen in the black community? We saw some of the same in the case of Magic Johnson, where any criticism of his sleeping with other women while married was drowned out by sympathy for AIDS interrupting his basketball career. If the NFL is intent on enforcing the moral qualities of its employees, shouldn’t it frown on sexual promiscuity with consequences along with domestic violence and dogfighting?