Golden opportunity for Adrian Peterson, NFL to speak out against violence

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Dan Wetzel
Golden opportunity for Adrian Peterson, NFL to speak out against violence
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One-count misdemeanor. No jail time. Eighty hours of community service. Parenting classes. Record expunged in two years if he avoids any trouble while on probation.

That's the end of it – legally – for Adrian Peterson after he agreed to a plea deal with the prosecutor's office in Montgomery County, Texas. Peterson declared no contest for misdemeanor reckless assault after being charged with abusing a 4-year-old son.

Adrian Peterson arrives at the courthouse with his wife for an appearance Tuesday. (AP)
Adrian Peterson arrives at the courthouse with his wife for an appearance Tuesday. (AP)

If that's good enough for the law down in Texas, then that should be enough for the NFL, which currently has Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list, a sort of paid-leave purgatory that's lasted eight weeks.

Peterson should be allowed to immediately return to the Minnesota Vikings, ending his de facto suspension. At least he should if the NFL is capable of going outside the box, trying to make a real difference and doing more than just placating the "punish, punish, punish" factions of society.

Additional weeks of sitting out or fines that may appear large but are easily covered might win some public-relations news cycle and make the pound-the-table people happy, but would do little to continue the important conversation Peterson's case began.

Peterson's punishment (or opportunity) going forward should be to take what he has learned (and will continue to learn) about abuse, anger management, parenting, child development and everything else and impart it to the public at large. If the NFL wants to make an impact on America then it should utilize Peterson's celebrity and credibility in hard-to-reach communities and require him to lead on the subject of child abuse.

Public-service commercials, speeches, workshops – whatever it takes. Everything from national television to grassroots appearances in the kind of places where Peterson was raised – in this case, the small Texas town – where striking a child is still considered by too many adults as the preferred form of discipline.

And Peterson should jump at the chance to do it – or propose it himself.

"I want to say I truly regret this incident," Peterson said Tuesday after his deal was reached. "I stand here and I take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than any one of you can even imagine.

"I'm looking forward, and I'm anxious to continue my relationship with my child," he continued. "I'm just glad this is over. I can put this behind me, and me and my family can begin to move forward."

Adrian Peterson shas not played since the season opener. (AP)
Adrian Peterson shas not played since the season opener. (AP)

It's clear Peterson believed what he did to his son was appropriate and even noble parenting. In text messages to the child's mother, he voluntarily admitted his actions and even bragged about how they came from a place of caring.

It's also clear that he loves and wants the best for the child. However, there is a fine line between stern discipline and whipping a 4-year-old so hard with a switch he bleeds, bruises and has welts.

Parenting is hard. It can be scary. It can be frustrating. It can be confusing and no one has all the answers or enjoys a perfect record in dealing with his or her children. No one thinks he or she has it all figured out.

Still, there are reasonable boundaries and Peterson overstepped them. His actions were repulsive and reprehensible – this big, tough pro athlete just unloading on a helpless little kid.

The Montgomery County prosecutor's office is hardly some kumbaya hippie community looking to destroy the bedrock values of America. It is, in fact, the opposite. And yet it didn't hesitate to charge Peterson.

Peterson, by all accounts, parented how he was raised. And there remain too many people in the same boat, not to mention others who will blindly defend nearly any level of abuse.

That cycle can now be broken. Not just with him, but more importantly the many others who are prone to listen to him and learn from him. The fathers and mothers who can now realize not just how damaging it can be to hit a young child like that, but how ineffective it is to changing behavior at that age.

Peterson represents a profound opportunity – a superstar athlete with credibility among men, who has already brought discussions about child abuse into the mainstream. Only now he can take it a step further, like when recovered addicts preach to school kids about the dangers of their actions.

Too often the NFL, and other sports organizations, corporations or anything else dole out punishment to make them look serious, look stern, look concerned to angered constituents who merely want to scream for blood:

Fire this guy. Suspended that guy. Dump this one. Ban that one.

It's the easy thing to do and it'd be plenty easy for the NFL to do it here – sit Peterson for the rest of the season and claim it's standing up for child abuse; say it is making Peterson pay, and let Goodell look tougher than a Texas judge.

Other than a flex of the muscles, though, other than appease some social-media mob, this accomplishes nothing.

The NFL doesn't use its bully pulpit enough, doesn't use the fame and passion of its players to connect with a captive audience of impressionable fans – from children, to teens, to grown men – about avoiding the mistakes they made, about real life issues, about otherwise impossible-to-breach topics:

Domestic abuse. Sexual abuse. Child Abuse.

So here's a remorseful and apparently enlightened Adrian Peterson available to lead on a topic that's lived in the dark corners for generations and generations.

If the law says Peterson is free then the NFL should agree.

This isn't a guy it should suspend. This is someone it should embrace, because if we all really care about Adrian Peterson's son, then the goal should be to prevent the next angered and confused dad from standing over a cowering kid like him, and picking up that switch.