Opinion

Opinion | Dennis Lehane

Adrian Peterson abused his son. Why would the Patriots want to sign him?

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson warms up before the start of an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/File 2016

Adrian Peterson was in Foxborough Monday to meet with Patriots officials.

I’VE BEEN A Patriots season ticket holder for 13 years. I kept the tickets even after I moved to California, because who would give them up? I can fly back a couple times each year, and the rest of the time, I pass them onto friends. I’ve held those tickets through Spygate and Deflategate and even when the team held its nose occasionally and broke the late Myra Kraft’s clear preference for only signing players of non-dubious character. I overlooked the Trump support (though it was hard) and the Bon Jovi support (possibly harder). But if a line has finally been met, it’s been met at the possible signing of a man who, in 2014, beat his own 4-year-old son with a tree branch.

Consider a couple of key facts in that sentence — 4-year-old and tree branch. Adrian Peterson beat up a preschooler so badly the child had cuts on his thights, hands, and abdomen. He had bruises on his lower back and buttocks. Peterson admitted to the child’s mother that he did feel a tiny bit of remorse, but only because he managed to hit the child in the testicles. He mentioned no remorse over filling the child’s mouth with leaves and then stripping the child’s pants to his ankles prior to administering the beating. Because we all know how important it is, if you’re a 6’ 1”, 220-pound man, to gag and strip a preschooler before you beat him with wood.

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Peterson, with his career in jeopardy at the time (but was it ever, really?), ultimately released several statements of contrition. But when the news first broke, before the possible loss of millions of dollars had sunk in, when it was just his own moral barometer speaking his own personal truth, Peterson found a way to play the victim. “People understand,” he posted on social media, “that if you are on God’s course and suppose [sic] to have that position and man decides to remove you know that God will remove everyone to place you rightfully! You matter! It’s your season! Weapons may form but won’t prosper! God has you covered don’t stress or worry!”

Let us put aside the egregious level of megalomania and its correlative overuse of the exclamation mark in those words. Let us forgive Adrian his terrible grammar. And let us solely concentrate on Peterson’s specious belief that his stress and worry clearly trumps that of his child. If he believed otherwise, he would have mentioned the child in that post. But we learn that God’s got Peterson’s back. God only has eyes for Peterson and Peterson only has eyes for God; the child is a third wheel. That child, make no mistake, is in for a lifetime of emotional and psychological distress that will stem from having Peterson as a parental model. This beating (and those we can presume we don’t know about) isn’t something the little boy is going to just get over. It’s not something he’ll elude and leave in his rearview the way his father eludes tackles.

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As to Peterson’s aforementioned “statements of contrition,” they’re not quite as contrite as he’d like you to believe. Yes, he learned that beating his son isn’t exactly tough love, so Adrian learned about “timeouts” and “taking snacks away,” but he also learned that he’d “been doing a pretty good job” as a parent except for that whole child abuse thing. Oh, and Peterson’s other kids? They’re well aware of Daddy’s collection of belts and propensity to use them, at least according to his 4-year-old’s statement to police. So, Peterson has evolved to the point he’ll never beat his child with a branch (at least not as long as he’s in the public eye) but also thinks that, otherwise, hey, he was doing a pretty good job. Here’s a news flash:

He’s not. He wasn’t. He didn’t.

If you can beat a child so badly blood runs down his thighs and abdomen, bruises form on his buttocks and back and testicles, and the taste of leaves and dirt stay in his mouth through a long night of pain and isolation as the child cries himself to sleep (or, worse, doesn’t cry at all), and your “remorse” over that incident is isolated to allegedly telling the child you’re sorry, after public outrage, not before, and then indignantly proclaiming how much you love said child and all your children before questioning whether man has the right to take away your God-given right to bloody your own progeny, then you are not doing a “pretty good job” as a parent.

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You deserve scorn and public approbation. You don’t deserve a contract. You don’t deserve a Super Bowl ring. You don’t deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness comes only to those who atone for odious behavior. Human beings are, for the most part, big fans of forgiveness and redemption narratives. But redemption only comes from true atonement and true penance. Simply saying, “I apologized to the victim but I’m otherwise a good parent,” is like Michael Vick saying, “I apologized to the dogs but I’m otherwise a solid candidate for PETA President.” Saying sorry without acting from a place of true regret isn’t “sorry,” it’s “whoops.”

So instead of chasing rings or another lucrative contract or an ultimately meaningless rushing record for players over 32, maybe Peterson should retire. And take a parenting course. Read a few books on the subject. Get in touch with whatever rage over his own abused inner child comes out when he aspires to “tear up (the) butt” of one of his children. Michael Vick apologized and sought to make restitution for his crimes. That took character, maturity, a reclaiming of his moral center. Adrian Peterson, thus far, has shown that the only center he believes in is his place at the center of the universe and as the apple of God’s eye.

Dennis Lehane is a novelist and former therapeutic counselor with abused children.
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