Don’t get me wrong, I love Adrian Peterson.
The man is a machine, he’s earned the moniker“All-Day,” and he’s arguably the greatest running back of all time. In an era where true blue, number one, feature tailbacks are fading quickly to running back platoons and aerial offenses, Adrian Peterson is the leader of a small group of running backs who allow their teams to play old-school, smash-mouth, run-first football. There are no gimmicks with AP, either; he doesn’t need a running quarterback or a fancy scheme to produce, he simply totes the rock between the tackles and rattles off big run after big run after big run, season after season. And I love him for that.
Prior to his Vikings’ Oct. 13 matchup with the Carolina Panthers, however, my love for the football deity that is Adrian Peterson was thrown into question. On Friday afternoon, two days before his 1 p.m. Sunday matchup, Peterson received news that his son had died due to injuries sustained in an aggravated assault inflicted by Joseph Patterson, the boyfriend of the boy’s mother.
The child lived with his mother in Sioux Falls, S.D., and was left alone with boyfriend Patterson, a man with a history of domestic and juvenile abuse.
Peterson was given the news that the child was in intensive care on Thursday and left team activities that afternoon to fly to South Dakota to see his son. Friday morning, AP was back in Minnesota and went calmly about his business, fully participating in practice that day. Later in the afternoon, news broke that the child had died.
Interestingly, there was no doubt in Peterson’s mind about his status for the game. Although his head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters that they would wait at least 24 hours to discuss and come to a conclusion, Peterson immediately said he would play. In speaking with reporters before the Friday morning practice, Peterson appeared calm and unshaken by the news, even half-smiling throughout much of the brief interview. He declined to speak on any details of the case, stating only that there was “no doubt” that he would be on the field that Sunday.
Reports from other news sources began to surface, indicating that Peterson had not actually known that this child was his until a few months earlier when the child’s mother conducted a paternity test. The ex-boyfriend she thought the boy belonged to failed the test, showing that Peterson was indeed the father, which the Peterson family confirmed via Twitter after receiving news of the loss.
As promised, Adrian Peterson was indeed on the field against the Panthers, producing a sporadic, un-Peterson like performance to the tune of 10 carries for 62 yards against a strong Panther’s run defense.
Many players find solace in football, oftentimes returning to the gridiron to produce magnificent performances in the wake of tragedy. Look no further than Torrey Smith’s incredible Sunday Night Football performance last season when he made two fantastic touchdown grabs only 18 hours after finding out his brother had died in a motorcycle accident and playing on less than an hour of sleep.
Similarly, Brett Farve played magnificently on the heels of his father’s death during Monday Night Football ten years ago. He posted 399 yards and 4 touchdowns after holding an emotional press conference the night before, inspiring his teammates to play with greatness in remembrance of his father.
So, why do I take issue with Adrian Peterson? Because when the news of his son’s death hit, one of the first things he had to say was, “I plan on playing Sunday. I will be playing Sunday, let me correct that. Be ready to roll, focused and ready to get a ‘W’ on Sunday, being 1-0.” There was no emotional press conference, no mention of playing for his son’s memory and no lost sleep. Only a quick tweet clarifying that it was not in fact the Adrian Peterson Jr. ,who was safe and sound under his father’s care.
It seemed as though the other son that had so strangely and quietly entered his life with a phone call had stepped out in much the same manner. And Peterson’s football career was completely unaltered by the entrance and subsequent exit.
Maybe there’s more to the story than AP wants us to know and see. Maybe he was affected beyond what the cameras and reporters were able to uncover. Maybe that’s actually just how he deals with tragedy in his life.
Nonetheless, the machine like consistency that I had fallen in love with on the football field was the very thing that has distanced my affections from the bionic, otherworldly running back.
The robot-like comeback from an ACL tear to an NFL MVP award-winning season is suddenly put into perspective by the cold, metallic reaction of a father whose life goals were never really altered by caring for the children of his not named Adrian Peterson Jr.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on the man. He has experienced twice as much tragedy and loss than I have in my life. His brother died right before his eyes at the hands of a drunk driver at age 7, his father was imprisoned for much of Adrian’s early life for selling drugs, and his half-brother was shot and killed the day before the NFL Combine.
“Things that I go through, I’ve said a thousand times, it helps me play this game to a different level. I’m able to kind of release a lot of my stress through this sport, so that’s what I plan on doing,” Peterson said an hour after finding out about the death of his son.
And I do believe that what Peterson said is true, but I can’t shake the feeling that nothing that happens on the gridiron can ever trump caring for and being a part of your child’s life.