“Life’s too short to debate other people’s opinions.”
-Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Ah, the internet and especially the Twitterverse is up in arms again. After the NFL’s mishandling of the Ray Rice situation – that did nothing more than show NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as little more than the owners’ lapdog – we have a situation with Adrian Peterson, star running back of the Minnesota Vikings. Full disclosure here: if you’ve bothered at all to look into any of my previous miscarriages of writing, you will find that I am a life-long Vikings fan. As I have seen the photographs of Peterson’s son’s marked-up legs, my parental sensibilities are fighting with my inner Viking. I gave up spanking my kids early in my parenting career, but I am not necessarily against corporal punishment.
Adrian Peterson, in “disciplining” his four-year-old son, took a switch to him and literally “tore that ass up”. If you are of a certain age and come from a certain culture – of which I am a part – a parent taking a switch to a child is nothing new, albeit a bit archaic. While I was never “switched”, I certainly felt the wrath of my father’s belt or my mother’s weapon of choice, the hairbrush. A switch on a bare leg is going to leave a mark, there is no getting around that, but does that actually constitute abuse? Peterson is not in the same category as those who leave their toddlers in hot cars, or break their bones, or keep them in closets.
He should be removed from the team, from the league! Really? As excessive as Peterson’s punishment of his child may have been, the reaction has enjoyed its own level of overreaction. But that’s part of the problem of social media: it enables the hyper-judgmentalism that has infected this society with little regard for logic or reason. It’s hard to find the carefully considered commentary through the backwash of the mob mentality of social media where some feel empowered to play judge, jury, and executioner. I suppose it was too much to hope that social media would ever amount to much more than dogs barking at each other.
If Peterson has to be examined, I would rather look at the most glaring defect in his public persona and that is the state of his “Christianity”. He is not unique, unfortunately, in being an athlete who invokes God’s name during interviews and, as one of the faith, I have an issue with this. Peterson is also not alone, as a professional athlete, in producing multiple offspring as he has six children, only one of whom by the woman he married earlier this year. The boy who is the center of this controversy is not that child. Yet, Peterson has fathered these children – even the one with his “deeply religious” wife – out of wedlock, or, more succinctly, through fornication. Now while I am of the mind to follow the “go and sin no more” aspect of Christian teaching, what Peterson has to show for himself is a heaping helping of “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. For one who, without encouragement, publicly proclaims his “Christian” values, however vaguely, he seems more akin to “those who pray on street corners that they may be seen of men”. To add to the Biblical references, I would add the sage admonition from Judge Judy: “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” His invoking God for something as trivial as football accomplishments while practicing something that is in conflict with genuine Christian behavior cheapens and puts a superficiality on his proclamations. It is a tricky thing to comment on this without sounding judgmental or condescending, but this incident may give Peterson the opportunity to examine how he conducts himself in all aspects of his life. But this is all beside the purpose of my piece, although this is the Terms of Digression, so you shouldn’t be surprised.
The final thing I want to touch on is the getting Peterson back out on the field and the hysteria over legalities. While the legal system has succeeded in large measure to parse out the differences between constitutional obligations versus those of a private sector nature, the disconnect I see in the mob in forum rantings is just another case of disconnect or lack of true appreciation of meaning in the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”. Just because you may think Peterson is guilty of something doesn’t mean a Texas jury will agree with you. For me, and because I do believe in the core of our legal system and that of due process, I am willing to wait for a court to decide. The Vikings organization agrees with this, naturally, to get him back on the field, and my inner Viking has no problem with this. Remember, Peterson was held out of the Patriots game; that amounts to a one game suspension… for what, because the über-parents out there don’t like the look of what a switch does to a bare leg; because some think he exceeded suitable punishment for whatever the kid did? If he is found not guilty, then what? What is suitable punishment for what he did if he is found guilty, further suspension for some arbitrary number of games or banning from the league? I am for justice, not only for the child, but for Peterson, as well; that’s justice, not vengeance. Nuance is not well-appreciated in social media.
Is this social media mob employing the double-standard that comes with being a public figure? How many of us could bear up under losing our jobs because of something similar? This hasn’t been proven to be habitual or even beyond a case where it appears Peterson employed the rod a bit much. But it’s okay because Peterson has already made more than enough money, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, he gets his day in court. But if the court of public opinion says he’s gotta pay, well, he’s gotta pay, right? He sits on the pedestal of a higher standard on which we placed him, whether deserved or not, whether realistic or not. Because unless he acts exactly the way we want him to act, the mob won’t be satisfied until he is torn down. The only thing we love more than building up our idols is tearing them down, but even with the tearing down, it’s still idolatry. Professional sports is built on it.
Opinion polls are for politicians and television executives, not for legal matters. If the Vikings want to let the legal process work, that is their prerogative. Nike and Radisson pulled their sponsorship in a typically feckless corporate PR stunt and people are applauding even though they should know that once Peterson’s case is adjudicated, they will come scrambling back to suck some more money out of the wallets of the temporarily outraged. But this is the mob of bread and circuses and social media gives it its voice. If the mob actually had the intestinal fortitude to really speak to the NFL with its wallets, then they would withhold payment and demand that companies like Nike bring back their jobs to the U.S. and college athletes would really act like students rather than entitled minor leaguers waiting for a payday.
I won’t hold my breath.
UPDATE: And, of course, after I post this, the Vikings decide to ban Peterson from all team activities until his case is settled, whenever that will be. Their decision is theirs to make and I respect that; my view and my questions remain, regardless. While some may view this suspension as some sort of vindication, I believe it stems from the question of other players who were in similar situations, but sucked as players (A.J. Jefferson, I’m looking at you) and were treated differently by the team. Consistency is a demanding mistress…