I miss reading about athletes taking steroids.

I miss reading about athletes smoking marijuana.

I miss minor vices decorating the sports page like parsley on steak.

This week in sports has made me want to dive headfirst from a tall building into a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

While anyone possessing a thimbleful of sense knew that Ray Rice injured his fiancée in an elevator months ago, that awful story was made even worse this week as we learned of Roger Goodell and the NFL’s incompetent handling of the crime, and as we saw Baltimore Ravens fans proudly wearing Rice’s jersey on Thursday night.

With the Ravens game and their heinous fans out of the way, this weekend promised a respite from Goodell’s tone-deaf defenses and Rice’s vile defenders, as games involving other teams would briefly interrupt the flow of bad news.

Then, Friday afternoon, came the report that Adrian Peterson had been indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

I hoped it wasn’t true. I hoped that if it turned out to be true, the child was uninjured.

Then I saw the alleged pictures.

I’ll use the words “alleged’’ and “if’’ a lot here, just in case Peterson is somehow being wrongly accused.

The pictures detail the wounds that Peterson allegedly inflicted on his 4-year-old son with a switch. The pictures are, allegedly, taken a week after the injuries. The pictures should turn the stomach of any human, and especially anyone who has worried over their child’s skinned knee with a Band-Aid and Neosporin.

If Peterson is guilty, this act would change everything.

I’ve always liked Peterson. I’ve never had reason not to.

For a star, Peterson is friendly and accessible. In terms of work ethic and on-field effort, he has never been anything less than admirable. His teammates like him. Vikings staffers like him.

None of that matters now. If Peterson took a piece of wood and whipped a 4-year-old until the child bled from large welts, he should never play for the Vikings again.

If the charges are true, Peterson will likely face a lengthy suspension. He is 29. By February, the Vikings were already due to begin asking themselves whether they could afford to pay an aging running back like a superstar.

If Peterson viciously beat a 4-year-old, the Vikings may have to consider cutting ties with a player who had a chance to be not only great but forever beloved.

If Peterson is guilty of child abuse, someone, somewhere in the NFL has to stop thinking about wins and losses and begin asking this question: “What kind of league do we want to be?’’

If it is proved that Peterson is the latest NFL player to harm a woman or child, the league’s post-Rice cleansing should begin in Minnesota.

You can argue that players are innocent until proven guilty, that they should be able to do their jobs as long as they are not incarcerated. But this is a public league, subsidized by public funds, whose teams represent our cities and states, who beg for consumers’ dollars and loyalties.

This is supposed to be entertainment. If Peterson is guilty, no one should be entertained by watching a man who beat his son bloody helping the local team win.

The knowledge that NFL players damage their brains while playing football has not affected television ratings. Maybe domestic abuse and child abuse won’t, either. But you would hope that the NFL cares enough about its image, and its growing legion of female fans, to act like it cares more about the safety of women and children than jersey sales.

The NFL shouldn’t cater to the losers who would wear Rice jerseys or defend Peterson.

Goodell belatedly did the right thing by suspending Rice indefinitely.

Someone in the NFL, be it Goodell, the Vikings owners or a quorum of other owners, needs to eradicate the mind-set that led Goodell to be lenient with Rice in the first place.

If Peterson is guilty, this would be a good place for the league to start anew, with a conscience and a plan.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. Twitter: @SouhanStrib

jsouhan@startribune.com