The start of the NFL season this year has been as much about touchdowns and sacks as it has been about public relations nightmares for the league. What started as a very ugly revelation about just one player punching his wife in an elevator has now grown into another major news story about a star running back going way too far in how he chose to discipline his child.
In both cases, the underlying stories are about far more than the behavior of these men and are more directly about a money-hungry league that is truly proving to care more about dollars and its image than it does about illegal activity by its players.
We all know about the “what did they know and when” problem the league has regarding the Ray Rice elevator incident. But the situation involving Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, actually started out with the team and the league doing the right thing. Peterson was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He did the right thing and flew back to Texas to turn himself in this past weekend and was arrested. The team responded immediately and suspended him.
That was a smart and proper response to reports of how badly Peterson had “disciplined” his child with a tree branch, or what he called a “switch.”
But then the Vikings lost their game on Sunday against the Patriots and I guess the Vikings decided their moral decision was not as important as winning. In a press conference yesterday where even the Vikings’ spokesperson seemed uneasy about their logic, the team decided to reactivate Peterson. Their stated reasoning was that they decided it wasn’t fair to judge Peterson before the legal system had a chance to run its course.
It’s incredulous to think that the Vikings wouldn’t have had this "innocent until proven guilty principle" before losing a big game to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. No, this is simply about the fact that the team can’t win without its star running back. That team is built around Peterson. He is worth many millions of dollars, and not just by salary alone.
For those of us who are fans of the sport, we cannot deny that we too play a role in this “win at all costs” mentality. After all, these guys are paid lots of money to win games and entertain us. Most of us don’t really care about their personal lives until it becomes a national headline.
So while the NFL has some serious thinking to do on how they deal with these off-the-field issues, as fans we too have to ask ourselves how we should respond. If Peterson plays in the next game, are Viking fans going to cheer just as loudly for him? We can also send a message to the league and to Peterson about what is acceptable. The same holds for any team that may later decide to put Rice on the field. Fans cannot just pass the buck to the NFL for standing up to unacceptable behavior. We too have a role to play in all this. The NFL is a fan-driven league, and our attention is what helps them generate revenue. So in addition to asking what should the league do, we have to ask ourselves what should we do?
Does winning really trump all?