Is it conscionable to cheer for Adrian Peterson again?
If not now, will it ever be?
For nine months, Peterson made himself a caricature of bad parenting and bad public relations. He savagely beat his son, defended himself illogically, tried to transform himself from perpetrator to victim, made a fool of himself on Twitter and rode a camel while wearing a turban at his birthday party.
Someday an expert on damage control will put Peterson’s face on a textbook to inform students what you shouldn’t do after you make a life-altering mistake.
Tuesday, the same man who waged an inadvertent campaign to make him himself look heinous and ridiculous stood behind a podium and made himself look human.
Peterson apologized for the beating, repeatedly calling it a “mistake.” He said he’s learned from it. He described spending time with the son he beat and a therapist.
He said he loves his kids. He also showed enough of his patented jaw-jutting defiance to establish that he wasn’t reciting talking points off a teleprompter. He noted that he wasn’t too happy to see certain members of the media. He defended himself as a father.
The day that Peterson addressed the beating was never going to be a good day for him or the Vikings, but he and Mike Zimmer made it as productive a day as it could be by speaking with emotion and honesty.
If there are 12 steps to public recovery, Peterson might have taken a couple in one bound.
The Vikings wisely put Zimmer and Peterson on the podium. A front office or ownership figure would have had to face questions about balancing winning and social responsibility. That may not have gone so well.
Peterson and Zimmer didn’t face those questions because we know what they are: Football zealots invested in winning games.
Zimmer has never pretended to concern himself with off-the-field issues. In fact, his excellent reputation around the NFL was built in part because he has salvaged players with damaged reputations.
Tuesday, the man who calls himself “The Fixer” spoke of Peterson as a beloved player and teammate. He spoke of him as someone who can help the Vikings win. He said he was “proud” of the way Peterson handled himself in the last year, which would have sounded awful coming from most people.
Zimmer is allowed to frame the story in this way. He will be judged by wins and losses, not the delicate handling of complex social issues.
Did one press conference transport Peterson to a place where he can be judged solely as a football player again?
There’s no reason to give the Vikings any medals for this, but they handled Peterson’s return in a way that provides closure to the issue at least in terms of accessibility. The key questions have been asked and answered. Peterson no longer looks like he’s in hiding, and the Vikings no longer have to answer questions about Peterson as if he’s a mythical figure.
So how do we, the sporting public, view Peterson now?
As someone who did something unforgivable? As someone who made a mistake and appears to have learned from it? As a football player who never should have been viewed as anything but a flawed mercenary?
I was disgusted by the act, and the reaction of Peterson and anyone who defended him. I was sickened by people wearing his jersey and holding switches at football stadiums.
Tuesday’s news conference stopped the avalanche of Peterson blunders and offered a glimpse of humanity behind the clownish and boorish behaviour — even if the human remains a little too defiant and unrealistic to be thoroughly likable.
Most of us will never again look at Peterson as merely a great football player, but if he has learned and perhaps inadvertently delivered a lesson on responsible parenting, is this the right time to turn the page to football and nothing but football?
And if not now, then when?