The three-day turmoil surrounding Adrian Peterson and the Vikings ground to a decision Monday when the team’s star player returned to Winter Park for business as usual.
But there was definitely disruption in the normal routine for the Vikings who, following Sunday’s 30-7 loss to New England without Peterson, reinstated the 29-year-old running back.
Peterson, who is facing a felony charge in Texas of injuring one of his children, was not in the locker room during the 45-minute period open to media, forcing teammates to face the glare of TV cameras.
He was also not at a 2 p.m. news conference, leaving General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer to answer a barrage of questions local and national reporters shouted over each other.
While Spielman acknowledged the images of the wounds Peterson inflicted on his 4-year-old son with a switch were “disturbing,” he said the organization’s top decisionmakers, who discussed the situation on several conference calls between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, thought it was best to let the legal system run its course before acting.
“I understand this is a difficult thing to handle, but we feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child,” Spielman said. “Whether it’s an abusive situation or not, whether he went too far disciplining, we feel strongly that that is the court’s decision to make.”
After an arrest warrant was issued in Montgomery County, Texas, for Peterson on Friday afternoon, the team moved quickly to deactivate Peterson for the home opener. Spielman said the Vikings did not have all the information involving Peterson’s case Friday. They gathered enough evidence in their own investigation over the weekend, including multiple conversations with Peterson, to feel comfortable reinstating him Monday morning.
“We believe he deserves to play while the legal process plays out,” Spielman said.
Asked if Peterson was being given a benefit of the doubt that former Vikings with legal issues did not receive, Spielman insisted the decision to reinstate Peterson had nothing to do with him being one of the best running backs in the NFL.
“It was based purely on the facts that have been presented to us,” said Spielman, adding that every situation is different.
While Peterson, who could be subject to a suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, did not speak with reporters at Winter Park on Monday, he issued a statement in which he expressed sorrow for “the hurt I have brought to my child” and regret for becoming a distraction to the Vikings organization and the local community.
“I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen,” Peterson said in the statement. “I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child.”
Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, advised him not to discuss the facts of his pending case, but Peterson did state he “voluntarily” appeared before the grand jury in Texas several weeks ago and was interviewed by two police agencies. He said he told them that “I never intended to harm my son. I will say the same thing once I have my day in court.”
Peterson also said in his statement he met with a psychologist about how he disciplines his children — which he said he learned firsthand from his father — and that he will re-evaluate how he does that going forward.
At least a dozen Vikings players, including five starters, ventured into the locker room Monday afternoon, well aware that about 50 media members wielding recorders, cameras and boom mikes were ready to pounce.
Zimmer told his players in a team meeting Saturday morning they should keep everything in house, but some were willing to speak out in support of Peterson.
“If anyone in your family, if someone does something you disagree with, you’re still going to love them,” said quarterback Christian Ponder, who became a father this summer. “We love Adrian. We’re here to support him through everything that is going on. I’m not going to comment on whether I agree or disagree with what happened. That’s his decision as a father, and he may or may not pay the penalty as he goes through what he’s going through down in Texas.”
Fullback Jerome Felton found out Peterson had been reinstated when he scrolled through his Twitter feed late Monday morning. He said he was punished in a similar manner as a child and feels he is a better person today because of it.
“I’m from the South, so I probably got it a little worse than that,” Felton said. “I guess people have different opinions, and you’ll have to judge for yourself. But yes, I’ve probably had it a couple times. I’m from the South so maybe it’s a little more common down there than up here.”
Staying on course
Not much about the NFL or today’s society surprises safety Harrison Smith, but he said the Peterson news caught him off guard. He didn’t want to comment on Peterson’s situation specifically but said he understood that player conduct would be under the national microscope in the wake of the recent legal issues of Peterson and former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
“Any negative opinion of the league I don’t like because being a part of it, I want it to be something that people look at and respect, they want to be associated with it, they want to watch,” Smith said.
The word of the day among the media was “distraction,” and Zimmer and his players brushed off the many questions about whether they were concerned the Peterson saga would take their focus away from their preparations for Sunday’s road game against the New Orleans Saints.
“It comes with the territory,” Zimmer said. “My dream is still to take this football team and this organization to where we want to go. I can’t let the so-called distractions or the things like this that we are dealing with today affect my focus and my trying to get this football team better. I’ve worked an awful long time to try to get to this position where I have the opportunity to do the things that we have to opportunity to do. I’m going to keep trying to do my very best.”
Whether reinstating Peterson was the right call or not, getting his best player back will surely help Zimmer in that endeavor.