Disclaimer: This is not the droid you’re looking for. This is a somber, sobering reflection on the events surrounding Adrian Peterson that have recently come to light, the reaction of the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings in response to these events, and the general state of professional sports as a whole. If you prefer my normal, sometimes funny, often inaccurate, and usually only semi-entertaining fantasy football analysis, check back later this week for my DFS Lineups and Values piece.
Last week, after recommending Adrian Peterson in both of my DFS lineups, news came down of his indictment for “reckless or negligent injury” to a child. I considered releasing an update to my lineup choices Saturday morning which removed Peterson from all my weekly Fanduel plays but decided against it, at the time, for two reasons: first, I felt it would be rather callous and insensitive to discuss Peterson in such seemingly selfish terms (I used player x for lineup y but now he’s inactive so instead use player z) while ignoring the moral and social questions surrounding his case. Second, I thought anything beyond such a “staying in my lane” approach would simply feel and be out of place. Not my job. Not what you want.
And so I was stuck between a rock and a hard place: either I disregard all of the “mess” surrounding Peterson and focus solely on his fantasy impact, and in so doing come off as heartless, or I hop on some sort of makeshift soapbox and go to town on a platform where all my audience is looking for is quick-hit fantasy football analysis and maybe a laugh or two.
But as the weekend wore on, I came to realize that there was indeed a third reason I had no interest in revising my article or, for that matter, going anywhere near the whole Adrian Peterson media frenzy, not even with a ten-foot pole: I didn’t want to.
And not the rock-and-a-hard-place don’t wanna mentioned above. Not the it’s-Saturday-and-I’m-lazy don’t wanna, either. Not even the leave-the-social-justice-crusading-to-somebody-else don’t wanna. It was far beyond that. Much deeper.
I love sports. I always have. As the story goes, I found my way to the Wrigley bleachers as an 18-month old (my mother has even saved the Cubs pinstripe onesie for upwards of a quarter-century, now) and was protected from a homerun game-ball demolishing my year-and-a-half-old cranium by nothing more than my father’s bare hands. Later, I grew up during the Jordan era and took my walkman am/fm radio with me on school trips, family vacations, or runs up to the local Coconuts music store to buy the latest Smashing Pumpkins CD. My “heroes” listed on any school assignment were always athletes: Ryne Sandberg, MJ, Curtis Conway. I joined my first fantasy football league in 1998, and we drafted with landline telephones that actually plugged into the wall and notecards. That league still exists today, and our yearly google hangout for the live draft is one of the few reliable ways to stay in touch with old friends who have spread out across the country and even overseas. Good friends who share the same love of sports, fantasy or otherwise. Old Gus Macker teammates, lifelong amigos who held up “K” signs with me down the third base line of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece.
I love sports. Professional sports are part of my life, and not just as a fan, a writer, or an analyst. Through them I share a connection, I keep in touch with people who are important to me. I have something to talk about during awkward family Christmases.
And that’s what makes this so hard.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to react to the news of Adrian Peterson’s indictment. Other than to click “move” and then “RB” and then “Bench” with his name on any fantasy league I owned him, I tried to ignore it. I followed any updates about the situation closely on Twitter. I needed to know, after all, what would happen not only this week but moving forward. For my fantasy lineups. For my team. For my imaginary squad of names with hyperlinks to playercards. For fantastical far-off “players” who meant nothing more to me than a few points awarded according to different arbitrary scoring scales each week. It was remarkably easy to distance myself from the human element of the story. “Look is he playing or not? I just need to know.” Yeah, because that’s what’s really important here.
I became disgusted with myself. And I knew why.
Like many humans, I think, I have a tendency to try to ignore or not think about or otherwise marginalize, compartmentalize and forget anything which makes me uncomfortable. Anything which upsets me. To avoid stress. To avoid depression. To avoid a lot of things that I’d rather not think about. In a sense, that’s the purpose of fantasy football or any source of entertainment: for a while, we are distracted. While setting our lineup, we are distracted. While listening to the weekly knuckleheads podcast, we are distracted. There’s no bill to pay. There’s no ISIS. There’s no global warming. No overpopulation. No frequent and disturbing occurrences of domestic abuse by professional athletes. For that short while, there’s just “RB” and “Bench.” And that’s it.
But I kept thinking of a four year old boy, alone, unable to defend himself from a 6-foot-1, 217 pound, superbly athletic and powerful man wielding a tree branch. Alone, no one to step in. No help. Probably terrified. Allegedly, with a mouthful of leaves. Unable to even call out for help. No voice.
How do you replace him in your lineup?
Is he playing or not?
Oh it’s only a one-week de-activation.
These were my thoughts. Perhaps some of yours, too. I am disgusted with myself.
I was a victim of abuse for several years. Thankfully, it was not at the hands of a parent. I stayed with my significant other, someone who, much like a parent, was supposed to love me, someone whose presence was supposed to be a safe place, much longer than I should have. I was hit with keys. I was attacked with a lamp. I was kicked. I had bruises and cuts. I was attacked physically frequently, in many more ways than I’d like to elaborate. And like the Peterson news, in many ways I have forced myself to forget it. I have marginalized it. I have ignored it. I did not want to write this article, but it has been writing itself for some time now. And now I can only think of two things:
First, how awfully alone I was. Being the man, I had a size advantage. I was bigger, stronger, more capable, but I never fought back. I couldn’t. I was frozen. I just let it happen. I took pictures of it, sometimes, but never used them in any way. I didn’t understand it. I was confused. I was upset. I was scared. I was a twenty-something year old man. 6’2”. Around 195.
This was a four year-old boy.
I was alone afterwards, too. No one spoke up for me. No one had an answer. I was the man! I had almost a foot in height and fifty pounds on her. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? How was this even a problem? As an adult, I had to struggle to reckon with the scope of it. But at least I had resources: I found therapy. I got myself out. I got out. That was the best thing I could have done. I was an adult and I got out.
This was a four year-old boy.
Second, tonight I think of the thing I learned most during that near 5-year span of abuse and ignoring, marginalizing, forgetting, forgiving... Someone, or something, that you love can hurt you. It can do wrong. Just because you love something doesn’t mean it is above wrongdoing, above harm, above the law. And most importantly, until they or it or whatever are held accountable, nothing will change. It will likely only get worse.
I learned this. It took me five years, but I learned this lesson well.
Right now, as I watch the finish of the Eagles-Colts game, that’s how I feel about the NFL. The league whose product I appreciate the most, and have the closest relationship to in both a personal and professional sense: until they are held accountable, it will only get worse.
And who is the they? Players. Owners. Commissioner.
We support the NFL. We purchase its products. We watch the games. We set our lineups. We fuel the multi-billion dollar engine. We feed money to a corporate machine which allows grown men who attack children with tree branches to wear a uniform with its emblem on it every Sunday on national television. At least, as of today that’s what will happen next week when the Vikings visit the Saints.
To be fair, I applaud the many voices on Twitter and elsewhere who have arisen against the inaction of the Minnesota Vikings ownership and the NFL. Adrian Peterson’s son is not alone. Not anymore. But he needs more allies. We all do. Zygi Wilf, Mark Wilf, and Roger Goodell. We need those allies. A four-year old boy, alone, with leaves in his mouth cannot stand up to abuse. Thousands, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Twitter users cannot take the appropriate steps to help cure an epidemic, a disease that’s festering on the sport(s) they love so dearly. We can only turn away in disgust and attempt to somehow rationalize our continued love of the game on a personal level. We can only try to somehow overcome the conflict between our ethics and our passion.
But we shouldn’t have to. We should not have to ever set our morals aside in order to enjoy a game that we love. And that is exactly what the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings are asking us to do.
It needs to stop.