Just as the fallout from the NFL’s mysteriously delayed reaction to the Ray Rice video tape was moving from public outrage to an investigation that won’t reach any conclusions for months, the league faced another crisis Tuesday involving a 219-pound running back and a defenseless victim.
This time the victim is anonymous, identified only as the 4-year-old boy who angered his father, Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, to the point Peterson used corporal punishment. It’s fair to wonder what a 4-year-old boy can do to deserve any punishment beyond a few minutes of solitary confinement in his room, but Peterson apparently believed the child had crossed a line calling for admonishment more severe than a timeout.
“Severe,” that’s a word. Another is “sick,” and it’s not too strong to describe using a tree branch to discipline a 4-year-old. Wielded by one of the strongest athletes in pro sports, the tree branch bloodied the child’s buttocks, back and legs, and presumably drew screams muted by the leaves Peterson stuffed in his son’s mouth.
Afterward, Peterson sent a text message to the child’s mother, alerting her about the strike that got away.
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The one that landed on the boy’s scrotum.
Peterson was booked and released early Saturday from a Texas jail, and the Vikings made him inactive for the home opener Sunday. Their next decision — and it’s as infuriating as the NFL’s early soft-pedaling of the Rice case — was to reinstate Peterson for the Week 3 game at New Orleans.
“To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child,” Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said in a prepared statement Monday. “At this time, however, we feel this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the most appropriate course of action.”
The most appropriate course of action? It would be to tell fans the team has a zero-tolerance policy toward players who torture 4-year-olds — a policy that extends to those with career rushing numbers already worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But, hey, there’s a pivotal game on the schedule, and the season’s young, and without their offensive catalyst in the backfield, the Vikings took a 30-7 beating at the hands of the Patriots. No wonder the Wilfs have put their trust in the legal system.
Yes, any American charged with a crime must be allowed due process, which in this case begins with the hiring of high-profile Houston attorney Rusty Hardin to keep Peterson out of a prison occupied by inmates with their own zero-tolerance policy regarding child abusers.
(It’s a kind of honor among thieves: Many of these guys are frauds and bullies — human crumbs incapable of maintaining a conscience — but even in their disenfranchised world without pity, torturing a 4-year old is the ultimate crime.)
But in assuring a citizen the legal process he’s due, there’s room for common sense. Peterson doesn’t deny allegations he beat up his son with a branch. He doesn’t deny the police department photos of his tantrum are authentic.
What he denies is that the pain and suffering inflicted by the beating were intentional.
“I have learned a lot and have had to re-evaluate how I discipline my son going forward,” Peterson said in, yep, another of those prepared statements that have become staple of every NFL team’s public-information department. “But deep in my heart, 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.”
Deep in his heart? Deep in what heart? A few years ago, Peterson was ticketed for driving 109 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. Seems there was a game to play the next day, and he was running late to make curfew at the team hotel, so he put the lives of everybody else on the road that night at risk.
The cop who pulled Peterson over thanked him for showing the courtesy of stopping — instead of, like, initiating a chase involving 14 state patrol cars — and left him with a wish unfamiliar to anybody who’s been ticketed for driving with a defective rear light: “Good luck tomorrow.”
Peterson insists he has a right to discipline a kid the way he was disciplined as a kid, and he’s not alone. The pathetic enablers around him will argue that parents these days are too lenient: Their reluctance to administer old-fashioned butt-whippings mirrors an America family culture that has gone soft.
There’s a difference between exercising reasonable discipline and using a tree branch to turn a 4-year-old into a quivering, blood-stained child denied the chance to wake up happy and hopeful about the day awaiting him. There’s a difference between civility and barbarity.
The Vikings finally acknowledged the difference late Tuesday night, putting him on the exempt list, meaning he will be suspended from activities with the team immediately. He will no longer play against a Saints team famous for once having given bounty awards to its most vicious tacklers.
I find cheap shots reprehensible, and I never would condone the idea of a linebacker or safety aiming the full force of his shoulder pad into Peterson’s reconstructed right knee.
Had he played against Saints and they wanted to go back to their bounty system one last time, there’s a good chance NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won’t notice.