Adrian Peterson – the NFL’s latest nightmare

Adrian Peterson in 2010. Photograph by Mike Morbeck.

Adrian Peterson in 2010. Photograph by Mike Morbeck.

What a week for the NFL – Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension for coldcocking his wife, commish Roger Goodell’s failure to respond to the seriousness of the act from the get-go and now Vikings running back Adrian Peterson indicted for felony child abuse.

Peterson, who was released on $15,000 bond but deactivated for tomorrow’s game against the Patriots, took a switch to his 4-year-old for apparently pushing a sibling  because of a motorbike video game. Instead of taking away the child’s game privileges, Peterson cut and bruised the boy’s buttocks, legs, ankles and even genital area with a tree branch. This has been a common form of punishment in certain parts of the United States, which is no excuse. We live with the past not in it. Lots of things that we once took for granted – smoking, driving without seatbelts – have since proven injurious, and smart people no longer do them. But making the smart choice isn’t always that easy.

Peterson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has said that this is how his client was disciplined as a child. When I heard this, I thought of a 1994 Vanity Fair profile of Tom Cruise in which he talked about being beaten by his father as a child and how abuse can be a kind of love. Maybe Peterson loves his son, but abuse is never love and only the recognition of that and the courage to act on that conviction will break its cycle.

Already the boy has said, “Daddy Peterson has a lot of belts in his closet.” Poor baby. Let’s hope it’s not too late for him.

The Peterson story broke on the day that Ray Rice, wife Janay and daughter Raven returned to New Rochelle High School, where they were all welcomed warmly (although the school has taken down his picture). “Hate the sin, love the sinner” seemed to be the prevailing theme. And I suppose home is the place that has to take you back no matter what.

But mercy without justice is a hollow quality. And if there is any justice, Peterson, Rice and Goodell will be held accountable for what they did – and what they failed to do.