Adrian Peterson: "I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser."

On Saturday we took an early look at the case of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and allegations that he has abused his four year old son while disciplining him with a switch. At the time, I urged caution in judging Peterson, given the frequently unreliable nature of initial reports and the general deference we tend to pay – or at least should pay – to the rights of parents in raising their children as they see fit. Of course, there are limits to that process, no matter what your position on corporal punishment, and given the wounds on Peterson’s boy, it’s fairly clear that he crossed them. Still, the football star seems ready to acknowledge that, while he crossed a line, he is still a loving father.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said Monday that he is “not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.”

Peterson, one of the NFL’s marquee players, will practice this week and can play in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, despite facing a child abuse charge, team officials said.

Peterson, who was kept out of Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, turned himself in to East Texas authorities Saturday, two days after an indictment alleged the 29-year-old father did “recklessly or by criminal negligence cause bodily injury” to his son, a felony.

There are two points I would like to bring up for discussion regarding this case. The first is the fact that, having realized that he went too far and needs to do better in his role as the guardian and protector of his child, it does not mean that Peterson will be switching over to a nothing but time out theory of child rearing. And once again it comes back to how Adrian was raised himself and what benefit he saw in it.

“But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives,” he wrote. “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man. I love my son and I will continue to become a better parent and learn from any mistakes I ever make.”

He closed his statement by saying that while he isn’t the perfect parent, he is not a child abuser.

Assuming that Peterson is sincere in his recognition of having taken the punishment with the switch too far and has learned from the experience, perhaps he and his son can move forward with the understanding that improper behavior will still bring a punishment, but it will be scaled to a reasonable degree. Absent more evidence, it doesn’t seem to be our place – at least in my opinion – to deem him an unfit parent or to lock him up and throw away the key. (Though some reasonable degree of punishment for the father may still be in order. That’s for a court to decide.) We should note, however, that another report has surfaced at Deadspin claiming that he causes a facial scar on a different son. You may assign whatever level of credibility to Deadspin that you wish, but some other sources are picking it up as well. If this turns out to be a recurring situation, the picture changes.

But the second question which comes to mind is how the NFL is to deal with Peterson. I know there is currently an atmosphere in the media where everyone is trying to dog pile on the NFL in general and Commissioner Roger Goodell in particular. It’s not dissimilar to the general gang mentality which has so many broadcasters ready to pile on the police in every nook and cranny of the country in the wake of the Ferguson case. But is a single case of corporal punishment in an effort to steer his son away from a ruined life to be put on the same level as a player who knocked his fiancee out cold? (Again… assuming this doesn’t wind up being a pattern.) Does it justify painting him with the same broad brush and declaring that Goodell needs to make an example of Peterson and ban him from play for life?

If these additional charges don’t pan out, I simply don’t think so. Flying into a rage at your future wife and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator may indeed be symptomatic of deeper problems. But there is also zero justification behind such an action no matter how charitable you wish to be. In the case of Adrian and his son, however, the intent seems to have been noble even if the execution was seriously flawed. And if he can continue to do better in that department off the field, it seems to follow that he should have the chance to prove that he is the caliber of sportsman we’d like to see on it. And if we learn that he’s a long term abuser, the opposite is true.

If this was a one off event and the Vikings and the league want to extend Peterson’s suspension for a few games to make a point and calm the national blood lust a bit, that’s fair. But absent further evidence, lumping him in with serial violent offenders and ending his career would, in my opinion, be a gross miscarriage of justice.

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