What's wrong with Adrian Peterson?
This seemed to be on the minds of many in Mortimer's, the barely lit south Minneapolis bar, as the Vikings were locked in a tight game against Detroit. Peterson seemed off, sluggish.
With the Vikings cradling a thin lead in the third quarter, Peterson took a handoff. He slid right, drove up-and-zoom, outside, breaking off a 75-yard dash that brought the bar to its feet. Adrian was all right.
Now we can go back to wondering if something might be wrong with us.
What happened with Adrian Peterson last season is one of the strangest occurrences in the history of professional sports. A major star was forced out of action for nearly the entire year despite lack of a criminal conviction, or even an official league suspension.
Peterson had been indicted for whipping one of his sons with a switch. The beating left his boy with bruises, welts, and cuts, later spotted by a Minnesota doctor who alerted Texas authorities.
Peterson eventually pleaded no contest, and was punished with a small fine plus community service. His sentence from corporate sponsors was worse, as Nike, Wheaties, and the Special Olympics pulled away from the fallen idol.
Vikings fans weren't used to this. The halfback who could run away from anyone got caught from behind.
Peterson was reintroduced at a press conference in August. He explained that he'd learned in mandatory counseling that he was "doing pretty well" as a father. His punishment tool kit now includes putting kids on "timeout," depriving them of favorite snacks, and taking away toys.
He also said he'd "made a mistake," and apologized to the son he'd whipped.
The debate over forgiving or forgetting is divisive, even within the same household. At Mortimer's, a couple adorned in purple-and-white grabbed a window-side seat for the action. One, an easygoing guy, said he can separate what Peterson does for work from what he does at home. Besides, a lot of his younger coworkers in a dialysis unit seem lazy, spoiled, and might have benefited from more discipline than their "entitled generation" got growing up.
His partner, less easy-going, disagreed. Athletes are role models, and kids will look to them to learn how to be good people.
After that Lions game, the Vikings tweeted a photo that captured the aftermath of his long run. Fans could be seen leaning over the railing, smiling and cheering him on. "Fan favorite," they tweeted.
Some fans have taken the position that what their favorite did with his own child, short of spiking him in the end zone, was outside their concern. What happens in Peterson's home doesn't affect their home.
Soon it might. In light of Minnesota's woeful record — at least 56 kids have died due to maltreatment or abuse in the past decade — child welfare experts recommended that the state include "bruises on the buttocks of a child over age three" as a trigger for investigations.
That idea sounds weak to another boisterous fan who wore his No. 28 jersey to Mortimer's. The man's face swung from smiles to scowls as he spent parts of the Lions game moving around the bar, slapping high-fives and yelling at refs. His jersey-sake might have gone "a little too far," he conceded, but he's used to the practice.
Like AP, he was raised in the South, provided Mississippi is still part of the Union.
"When your kid's fucking up, you whoop his ass," the guy said, recalling how he was raised.
He's got two boys, six and eight, and sometimes they act out. Does he hit them then? He shook his head. He doesn't need to.
"I can just look at them and I know they won't do it again."
His thoughts recalled something Peterson said at his press conference. Someone asked what it meant that coach Mike Zimmer stood by Peterson throughout the scandal. Those statements meant "maybe even more than [Zimmer] knew," Peterson said. Zimmer is an honorable, exemplary figure in Peterson's eyes, someone with a moral code. He trusts Zimmer to do the right thing.
"He's one of those coaches you really don't want to disappoint," Peterson said.
The relationship between Zimmer and Peterson, coach and player, sounds like a good one for fathers and sons. Motivation to do right is derived by pride, or shame, in the older man's eyes. The real fear is the fear of letting him down.
Whether timeouts work should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Adrian Peterson, the league and the team essentially stood him in the corner for nine months. They took away his favorite toy.
He's not grounded anymore, free to play with the other boys in the neighborhood, and he's still better at their backyard games than any of them.
Go ahead and root for Adrian Peterson if you can divorce ugly violence off the field from beautiful violence on it. Better yet, hope his fingers weren't crossed when he said he'd learned a lesson.