There was a tragedy in the NFL this week. It had nothing to do with on-field performance, or anything that happened in practice. The tragedy did not happen anywhere near an NFL facility. It happened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and it was the death of Adrian Peterson’s two-year old son.
Odds are that you are already familiar with the story, or at least have heard of it. You probably know that Peterson’s son was in the care of the mother’s boyfriend when cops found the boy in critical condition. The man who was supposed to be caring for Peterson’s son was instead abusing the two-year old. The child was rushed to the hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at 11:43 AM on Friday, October 11.
But that is not what this article was about. This is not a news release which will seek to tell the facts while inputting little opinion. This is about the reaction to the news, and what it reminds us all. Football is a game. Sure, at the professional level there are millions of dollars on the line along with unfathomable public scrutiny should you fail, but it is a game nonetheless. A death in a family, especially that of a player’s child, should usurp participation in a game at any time.
If you view the NFL as a profession, which it is, the point still stands. The magnitude of the profession should have no bearing on what is expected of a worker who is forced to deal with this type of tragedy.
Which is why many of the reactions to the news disgust me. Our last concern should be whether or not Peterson will play this Sunday. Yet that is what nearly every article on the subject discusses at some point. If Peterson wants to put his grief aside for a few hours on Sunday afternoon and play a game of football, then he has more emotional fortitude than many of us could ever hope to have. However, if he does not, then that is just as well. The decision is Peterson’s to make, and we have to hope that he makes it for the right reasons.
Peterson’s tweets after the news broke were telling. He described the NFL as a “brotherhood” and was appreciative of the support that had been pouring into him from fellow members of that fraternity. If that support is why Peterson returned to his team, and why Peterson eventually plays on Sunday, then who are we to argue with that? But if Peterson returns to appease anyone but himself, there is a problem with the expectations placed on NFL superstars.
A lot of that expectation may be coming from fantasy football owners of Peterson. I play fantasy football. I love fantasy football. I even own Peterson in one of my leagues, but I could not care less if he plays this Sunday. I am not holding out hope for a Brett Favre or Torrey Smith game like many people on Twitter are. I am not constantly refreshing the Rotowire news feed on Peterson while I flip-flop whether or not to put Peterson in my lineup. Peterson will not be in my lineup this Sunday. Not because I do not think he will play, and am trying to avoid a goose egg in my lineup, but because I do not want to find myself rooting for Peterson for the wrong reasons.
For the most part, the sentiment by experts I follow on Twitter has been what it should be. ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry and Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller especially have been on par in their coverage of the tragedy. Which is to say that they have avoided the topic besides the necessary condolences offered to Peterson and to express disbelief at those who are using the news to increase their readership. This is how everyone should view the news. The question should not be whether or not Peterson plays a game of football on Sunday; the question should be how Peterson deals with the grief of losing his two-year old son.