By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are hosting free agent running back Adrian Peterson. Even in a world where folks are perpetually surprised by the moves of Bill Belichick, nobody could have seen this one coming.
Adam Schefter dropped that news nugget late Sunday afternoon, and the reaction was rather swift. A person like Peterson tends to inspire that kind of reaction.
There are two obvious reasons. First, there is his on-field ability, which is very much in question at age 32. He’s played in just 20 of a possible 48 games in the past three seasons, he had seven fumbles in 2015, and injuries to his knees make his days of dominating on NFL fields seem like a distant memory.
But most significantly, Peterson has become a controversial figure after his 2014 indictment for child abuse. Here are some details about the events that led to Peteson turning himself in to police, from CBS Houston (emphasis added here):
Peterson’s son had pushed another one of Peterson’s children off of a motorbike video game. As punishment, Peterson grabbed a tree branch – which he consistently referred to as a “switch” – removed the leaves and struck the child repeatedly.
The beating allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands. Peterson then texted the boy’s mother, saying that one wound in particular would make her “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”
Peterson also allegedly said via text message to the child’s mother that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh” and also acknowledged the injury to the child’s scrotum in a text message, saying, “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”
In further text messages, Peterson allegedly said, “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”
According to police reports, the child, however, had a slightly different story, telling authorities that “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.” The child also expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities. He also said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.” He added that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down. The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”
In an interview with Houston police, Peterson was very matter-of-fact and calm about the incident, appearing to believe he had done nothing wrong and reiterating how much he cared about his son and only used “whoopings” or “spankings” as a last resort.
Peterson also expressed regret that his son did not cry – because then, Peterson said, he would have known that the switch was doing more damage than intended. He didn’t realize the “tip of the switch and the ridges of the switch were wrapping around [the child’s] legs.” Peterson also acknowledged that this was administered directly to the child’s skin and with the child’s pants pulled down.
When Peterson was asked how he felt about the incident, he said, “To be honest with you, I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.” He also described the incident as a “normal whooping” in regards to the “welps” on the child’s buttocks, but that he felt bad immediately when he saw the injuries on the child’s legs. Peterson estimated he “swatted” his son “10 to 15” times, but he’s not sure because he doesn’t “ever count how many pops I give my kids.”
Peterson said he would reconsider using switches in the future, but said he would never “eliminate whooping my kids . . . because I know how being spanked has helped me in my life.”
TMZ released photos that showed the extent of the beating.
More than two years removed from the story breaking, some of those details have grown fuzzy. Since then, Peterson fought the NFL in court and won, and he led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2015. This offseason, the Vikings — the only professional team he’s ever played for — elected to not pick up the option on his contract. He’s since received very little interest on the free agent market.
As far as the Patriots are concerned, they made news this week by taking a stance against draft prospect Joe Mixon. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported that the team absolutely will not draft Mixon — who punched a woman in the head in 2014 — under any circumstance.
“While I believe in second chances and giving players an opportunity for redemption, I also believe that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right,” Kraft was quoted as saying in the story. “For me, personally, I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women.”
Team president Jonathan Kraft also made his stance on domestic violence very clear in October:
“It’s something that’s totally unacceptable and it’s not something that we’re ever going to tolerate here at the New England Patriots,” Jonathan Kraft said in reference to “the domestic violence and the sexual abuse area.”
Jonathan Kraft added: “We have taken it seriously for the 24 years we’ve owned the team. And it is something, for us, there literally is no gray area. It’s a very definitive and clear situation.”
The incident in question for that comment was Josh Brown’s admitted spousal abuse, so beating a child with a tree branch is not necessarily an A-to-A comparison.
However, ChildWelfare.gov defines domestic violence as such:
“Domestic violence can be defined as ‘attempting to cause or causing bodily injury to a family or household member or placing a family or household member by threat of force in fear of imminent physical harm.'”
While stuffing leaves inside a child’s mouth and then beating him with a stick while potentially threatening to punch him in the face may not fit the standard definition of “domestic violence” for most folks, it is certainly on a level with spousal abuse.
And if the Patriots “literally” have no gray area when it comes to domestic violence, showing any interest in Peterson would seem to represent a shift in philosophy from the franchise.
Sports fandom has a way of shifting morals and belief systems, if only for a few hours every Sunday. That being said, if you’re a Patriots fan, would it be easy to stand and cheer while watching Peterson score touchdowns alongside Tom Brady? Or are there limits to one’s allegiance to the home team?