To say “it’s been a bad few weeks for the NFL” is like saying “this water is somewhat moist.” Sure, they’re both technically true. But just like the latter statement, the former doesn’t even come close to encompassing the magnitude of the situation at hand.
At the heart of it all: Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, two star running backs that have had their reputations — and, by association, likely their careers — torn down by allegations of domestic abuse that have taken the world by storm and have exposed shortcomings in the NFL and the commissioner’s office as well.
Speaking as a Minnesota Vikings fan, I’m shocked, dismayed and disappointed at Adrian Peterson. But more importantly, speaking as a human being — as a son, a brother and a friend — I’m absolutely outraged, not just at the instigators but also at the manner in which the league has dealt with them, which exposed a glaring double standard in our society that is simply infuriating to me.
Let me be clear before I proceed: I fully understand that different cultures, different families and different people have different ways of raising (and punishing) their children. Although I myself identify strongly with the school of thought that physical punishment of children is not acceptable, I understand that the people that do not align with that school of thought have their justifications and motives that will likely not change, regardless of what I (or anyone else, for that matter) say.
But regardless of where Adrian Peterson falls on that spectrum — regardless of what his upbringing taught him, what his parents did or what he personally believes — it is absolutely unacceptable for him to be in a position in which he is physically punishing his child.
Let’s just leave aside the fact that he was not the primary caregiver for this child and should have left matters of discipline and punishment to the mother that the child actually lived with for the vast majority of his life (although I believe this is also a very significant consideration).
Although the topic of child-rearing is not as hotly contested in American society as are, say, gay marriage or religion in schools, it still remains a very polarizing point of contention that most people choose to avoid discussing in general, lest they alienate or antagonize people in the opposing school of thought. It’s just one of those topics that’s better left unsaid and in the background. It’s a matter of personal privacy more than anything.
But when you’re an athlete of Adrian Peterson’s magnitude and your legacy and following dwarfs you hundredfold, it is of utmost importance to realize that you do not have that privacy. Does he deserve that privacy? “Of course he does,” you might say. “He’s a person just like you and me, is he not?”
Not quite. Not when you’re a household name all across America and people aged 1-100 wear your name and number on their backs. Not when you captivate a nation every Sunday in front of millions of viewers. What you do is the news, whether you like it or not. When you’re in that position, you need to exercise caution in how you go about your life — especially in touchy matters like this — because everybody is watching. Regardless of your beliefs and upbringing, you are responsible for the fact that your actions are part of a highly stigmatized area of society and can and will alienate, offend and shock the people that disagree with that view. And even if you don’t necessarily agree with those people, it’s on you to not take those actions so that you never cause heated arguments, particularly on such a controversial and polarizing topic.
And if you don’t like that position? Remember that it was you that chose to elevate yourself into a job in which you stand as an example to a nation. And even though it seems unfair to have your every move magnified, blown up and scrutinized even in your personal life, keep in mind that others in such a lofty position — teachers and politicians come to mind — are also subject to the same standards.
If you were a teacher and news came out that you had been lacerating and bruising your child, you bet people would look down on you and want you fired. Politicians resign over occurrences in their personal lives that their constituents and political pundits find unsavory. Why should athletes — when they arguably impact more people — be exempt from this standard when it’s clear that their actions are not in line with the exemplary positions that they hold?
And that’s where this double standard lies. The manner in which the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL dealt with this issue was mind-bogglingly bad: first taking Peterson out, then saying that he was to play, then saying, “oh, never mind, he should stay away from the team.” Where is this indecision coming from? Why should there be indecision in the first place?
The Vikings and the NFL should have come down on Adrian Peterson like a ton of bricks — and they failed to do so. Not only does this make the NFL appear weak (I mean, Roger Goodell did that too), but it also enables this behavior — not only in Peterson, but in all of the instigators of domestic violence all around the league. We don’t know what’s ultimately going to happen to him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a slap on the wrist — especially after the allegations of the commissioner’s office covering up the Ray Rice video emerged.
I want to see the NFL care, but I know they probably won’t. They know that their own reputations and paychecks are on the line as well, and especially after the Ray Rice video allegations emerged, I have zero confidence that they’re going to make anything meaningful happen.
Which is utter crap. In any other sphere, Peterson’s actions would have amounted to assault and he would be spending time in jail and ostracized, but because he is a stud athlete making people millions of dollars, he seems to be exempt from punishments and consequences that any other human being would face for his actions. Why are we sitting idly by letting this happen?
Major League Baseball banned Pete Rose for life for betting on baseball. For life. For actions that didn’t harm anybody. They just undermined the integrity of a game. And while that “just” might seem belittling to the great game of baseball, we forget that baseball and football are just that — a game. But what Peterson is embroiled in right now doesn’t affect him and us as players and watchers of a game — it far transcends that and affects us all as people, as human beings, as parents, as children.
With the Pete Rose punishment in mind, it’s almost farcical that Peterson isn’t facing that — or more — for oh, you know, beating a child to the point of bruising and lacerations.
Forget the Vikings. Forget the Hall of Fame. Forget Pro Bowls and MVP Awards. This is way beyond that, and until the NFL gets it right, does all that really mean anything?
Your move, NFL.
Don’t worry, Do-Hyoung Park wasn’t feeling as venomous as the tone of this column while he was writing it. He and the puppies that he was petting and the daisies that he was picking while he stewed over this would love it if you could send him mail, though, at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.