If it comes down to a jury trial, Adrian Peterson's potential lack of guilt in his recent indictment on charges of child abuse are held together by one simple premise:
Adrian Peterson's brutal discipline methods (used on at least one of his children) are a product of the same (or possibly worse) punishments doled out to him by his father and others when he was a young boy in Palestine, TX.
Even the other recent sports world transgressions that were so lopsided in the court of public opinion had at least some divisive or polarizing element to them. Should Ray Rice really be suspended indefinitely just because video turned up of the punch that already got him a two game suspension? Was it fair that Donald Sterling's racist comments were recorded without his consent by his girlfriend?
In those cases, there's little debate that Ray Rice and Donald Sterling are not very good people. The questions are more about how their respective offenses were handled.
With Peterson, the moral debate is more complicated.
Nature or nurture? Product of environment or inherently violent? Good guy who went overboard or bad guy who got vicious? Where you fall in the Great Peterson Debate is probably one big speedball of your geography, religion, race, and your own background. However, based on the details in a Tuesday article in USA TODAY, there's little doubt that Peterson grew up in an environment where vicious physical punishment was normal and swift.
The article reveals the roots of Peterson's upbringing in which his father, Nelson Peterson, had no qualms administering painful "whippings" to the Vikings running back during his childhood years, oftentimes using a belt or a "switch" (a corporal punishment word for a "small tree branch") according to two uncles, a former step-mother, and childhood friends. Nelson Peterson eventually did time in prison for money laundering related to a cocaine distribution network.
David Cummings played football with Peterson in junior high and recounted a story which began with Adrian Peterson acting up in class and ended with him getting belt-whipped in front of 20 classmates:
Cummings says he and Peterson were leaving football practice while in middle school when Peterson's father, Nelson, was waiting near the parking lot.
School officials had called Nelson Peterson to report that Adrian had been disruptive in class, recalled Cummings, who played football and basketball with Adrian Peterson during their youth and through high school.
"His dad asked what happened, and Adrian told him," Cummings said.
With that, Nelson Peterson unstrapped his belt and whipped Adrian Peterson in front of more than 20 students, Cummings said.
"We still talk about it to this day," Cummings told USA TODAY Sports. "My dad was tough, but his dad was real tough."
Peterson's family members confirmed Cummings' story for USA TODAY, and Cummings himself confirmed that none of the so called "whippings" received by Adrian Peterson were ever reported to authorities. Instead, Cummings called the beatings "normal" and went so far as to show the reporter trees from which he and Peterson would select the "switches" for their punishments.
Two of Peterson's uncles, Larry and Greg Peterson, along with the aforementioned former stepmother (Phyllis Peterson), confirmed that Nelson Peterson would whip his children along with some of their friends with a belt or switch.
The culture of corporal punishment was not confined to the Petersons, though. In the city of Palestine, it remains an option available to school administrators to discipline disruptive students:
"If a kid is chewing gum in class, we don't necessarily give the students swats for that," says Jason Marshall, superintendent of schools in Palestine, a city of about 18,000 about two hours southeast of Dallas. "If a student has several disciplinary situations that just continue to mount, then corporal punishment is an option."
Marshall says he did not know the specifics of the incident that led to the Adrian Peterson indictment, but added, "Myself as a father and then for our 3,400 students (in the Palestine school district), we certainly would not want any of them, under any circumstances, to be harmed in any way."
The beatings were also administered by one particular member of the high school football team's coaching staff:
Cummings says he and Adrian Peterson got whipped several times by the football team's defensive coordinator, Booker Bowie, with a solid-oak paddle that measured about 18 inches by 6 inches and hung on a nail in the coaches' office.
"You would bend over and brace yourself and get however many licks had been assigned for you," Cummings says. "Sometimes it would leave a bruise on the buttocks or just a red mark. It was not a pleasant feeling. You were not able to sit for a few hours."
Bowie, now retired, says he could not remember paddling Adrian Peterson but it may have happened "once or twice."
Bowie chuckles and says paddling amounts to "tough love" -- and he thinks that's what motivated Peterson when Peterson whipped his 4-year-old son in an incident that led to his indictment.
Palestine, TX is approximately 1,000 miles from Minneapolis, but when it comes to the topic of corporal punishment for children, it may as well be a million miles.
This was reflected by the governmental and corporate stance taken in Minnesota on the Peterson issue.
Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, who was the driving force behind the legislative fight for the new $1 billion stadium the team will move into in the next couple years, issued a statement Tuesday saying he believes the Vikings should take Peterson off the field until his case is resolved in Montgomery County, Texas, which could take until well into the new year:
"It is an awful situation," he said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be 'innocent until proven guilty.' However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota. Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson, until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.
"However, I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested. The Vikings belong to Minnesota -- and in Minnesota. This has been the team's only home, and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans."
The withdrawal of sponsorship by Radisson was well documented on Monday, and on Tuesday Nike Stores in the Mall of America and and at an outlet mall in Albertville removed Peterson's jersey from its shelves. (The jersey remains available nationwide.) Mylan Inc., a local Minneapolis company that treats allergies, has withdrawn its promotional ties with Peterson, as has Castrol Motor Oil.
Not coincidentally, the Vikings reversed course on Peterson by putting him on the NFL's exempt/commissioner's permission list until his child-abuse case is resolved. This ruling bars him from all team activities, owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf said in a news release early Wednesday morning:
"After giving the situation additional thought, we have decided this is the appropriate course of action for the organization and for Adrian. We are always focused on trying to make the right decision as an organization.
"We embrace our role -- and the responsibilities that go with it -- as a leader in the community, as a business partner and as an organization that can build bridges with our fans and positively impact this great region. We appreciate and value the input we have received from our fans, our partners and the community."
Peterson's next scheduled court date is October 8, unless he negotiates to have the matter resolved at an earlier date.
Peterson's situation with personal sponsors is a microcosm of a seemingly growing fatigue that the league wide sponsors have begun to express over the league's handling of the recent spate of violent incidents and public relations gaffes.
Anheuser Busch issued the following statement Tuesday:
"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season," a representative for Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. "We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."
Similar reservations have been reportedly expressed by McDonald's, Visa and Campbell Soup Co.
The money trail of NFL sponsorship discontent continues to grow. How big it becomes will ultimately dictate the fate of commissioner Roger Goodell, whose tenure is held together entirely by the massive profit margins that have occurred on his watch.
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