The Hot Corner: That Adrian Peterson Case…

Oh my.  Well, the NFL ruling on Adrian Peterson came down yesterday, and it was about what I expected – a suspension for the rest of the season.  And you knew it was going to come down hard after he basically rebuked the NFL’s hearing on Friday, issuing a statement afterwards pointed at the NFL’s disciplinary inconsistencies.  Odd the timing there, poking the bear after it was already awake and growling at you.

What I found most awful about the ruling, though, wasn’t the decree itself, but the ridiculously paternalistic wording of Goodell in it, in which he basically chided Peterson for his behavior, and went on about his lack of remorse.  Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure Roger Goodell is supposed to be judging Peterson about his remorse or lack thereof.  Who is he to make that call?  If Goodell had a degree in psychology, maybe that’d be fair play, but he doesn’t – he has a degree in economics.  Goodell scolding Peterson over his remorse would be like Peterson offering Ryan Suter tips on his slapshot.  Except that what Goodell is doing is really worse – he’s using his opinion as part of the formula in his ruling.

You see, here’s the thing.  Peterson owes the NFL nothing – his case was a criminal case, which proceeded through normal criminal channels.  He was suspended and stayed quiet for the duration.  He pleaded to a misdemeanor and avoided a felony count as a result.  And the NFL, to its serious discredit, does not have a concrete disciplinary process in existence.  This is really the crux of the matter – punishments are inconsistent and impossible to predict, and generally speaking, trying to fight a punishment only means more punishment.  Goodell is, after all, the judge, jury, executioner, and appeals judge of the NFL.  And so far, there’s no set standard for discipline, no roadmap to follow that tells a player “if I do this, I can expect that to happen to me.”  The NFLPA and Adrian Peterson are right about that – the process is almost completely arbitrary, and I have a hunch that Goodell likes it that way.

Which is why I’m not surprised by this situation.  If you ask me, the NFLPA is taking an opportunity to really push back on Goodell here; they’re using the Peterson case as a highlight.  Remember – Ray Rice only got a 2-week suspension for knocking his wife out until more incriminating evidence came out, at which point the entire process became a colossal clusterfuck for the NFL.  And everything since then has hinged on that – the NFL is willing to demolish Adrian Peterson to help salvage the brand.  And I think the NFLPA realizes that.  I sincerely doubt Adrian Peterson spurned Goodell’s wish for a hearing last Friday on his own; I have no doubt that he had a union rep in his ear, telling him that if he wanted any leverage of his own, he had to buck up against Goodell.  And, in reality, that’s bullshit – Goodell is happy to rain fire on AP and has the leverage to do so, especially since public opinion of AP is kinda low, even here in Minnesota.  It helps that there’s a nice out in his contract for the Vikings after this year, too.  But I think the NFLPA recognizes that this is a golden opportunity – a high profile case that highlights the inconsistencies of the NFL’s process – that they can use as a platform in a long-term game to push back on Goodell.  Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but you can almost feel the NFLPA gearing up for a showdown as players become increasingly frustrated with the process.

Now, I should reiterate here – I in no way defend Adrian Peterson’s actions.  Child abuse is a heinous crime.  However, it is a crime that many people still consider to be standard behavior, an accepted and lauded way to raise a well-mannered child.  The downside is that punishing people doesn’t educate them.  Adrian Peterson has been remarkably tone-deaf during this entire process, which tells me two things – first, that this type of discipline was very firmly ingrained in his upbringing, and second, that no one seems to be teaching him otherwise.  When the news first broke, I remember thinking of what a great PR opportunity it was for the NFL after Ray Rice – they could suspend AP for awhile, during his legal proceedings, and really push the education angle; get AP some classes, teach him, and let him be a spokesperson against child abuse going forward.  But that didn’t happen.

See, here’s where the real problem lies – the NFL likes to think of its players as role models for communities and children.  Let me be the first to say that is a patently absurd idea.  Football players are not role models by default; no one is.  Some are, sure – Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, whatever.  But if the NFL wants to have guys front-and-center in the public arena, maybe they should pick and choose and vet these guys a bit.  Because frankly, many NFL players are not role models – they’re just people, many from impoverished backgrounds, trying to make a living.  A living that they make by playing an incredibly violent, incredibly macho sport.  Just because you strap on a helmet, end up on TV, and can catch a ball doesn’t make you a hero to me.  This isn’t just a football thing, either – it goes for all sports, and really, all walks of life.  Bill Gates is an admirable philanthropist, but it doesn’t make every Microsoft employee a community role model, you know?

The NFL didn’t always push its players like this – I don’t remember this nonsense growing up.  Some guys were role models, yeah – we loved Barry Sanders in Detroit, for example, and we loved him because he was exceptionally talented and exceptionally humble.  But I don’t remember hearing about crap like this all the time; occasionally, a player did something stupid, but there wasn’t an insane spectacle about it, because no one assumed anyone was looking to said random player to be a role model.  That wasn’t how Paul Tagliabue’s NFL ran.  But it is now Roger Goodell’s NFL runs – every player under the microscope, expected to be a paragon of virtue.  And, lo and behold, that’s not working so well.  Turns out, not every NFL player is a paragon of virtue.  Maybe, just maybe, the solution isn’t to punish these men – these men of adrenaline and strength and machismo who play an ultra-violent sport – perhaps it’s to just let them be who they are, and not cast any kind of special light on that at all, and let normalcy reign.

Adrian Peterson is not a role model.  He’s not a criminal, either.  He’s a football player, a running back.  His job is to run faster than other people or plow them over.  He’s a father whose upbringing taught him to give a rude child a whoopin’.  He’s a man who was never taught otherwise.  You can fault him that, sure.  But I think the failure in this situation goes well beyond Adrian Peterson.

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The Hot Corner: Are the Lions for Real? And a bit on V-Mart and AP…

I promised it last week – we’re looking at the Detroit Lions today, and I’m damn happy to be doing it after their win over Miami.

Football’s a strange, fickle thing.  All sports are, really.  You go into the season, every team down on paper looking great or not great, and conclusions are drawn.  Then a funny thing happens – they actually start playing games.  Sometimes those prognostications turn out… sometimes they don’t.

The Lions have looked good on paper for awhile.  Every year for at least four years has been a year of hope for a beleaguered fanbase hungry for… anything.  Success came in 2012 with a playoff appearance, albeit a mercilessly short one.  But that was a young team, still only 4 years removed from the NFL’s only 0-16 season; the loss was expected, a growing pain before better things came along.  But those better things didn’t come along.  Instead, the team became aggressive and undisciplined, perfectly reflecting a coach who (I believe) preached those things behind closed doors.  Jim Schwartz wasn’t a bad coach; he was the absolute right coach for the 0-16 Lions.  But he was not the guy to take them to the playoff promised land.

I didn’t like the Caldwell hire.  I still don’t.  I think Caldwell is fatally bland in his style in a league that rewards a certain amount of moxie.  Caldwell, however, brought in two very worthy up-and-comers to be his coordinators, and they’ve done wonders.  Teryl Austin, the defensive coordinator, in particular, should receive praise upon adulation upon praise this offseason if the Lions continue to do so well.  Joe Lombardi, the offensive coordinator… well, the jury’s still out there.  The offense has been up-and-down, and the players (especially Stafford) still look like they’re adapting to the scheme change.  And, of course, the Lions haven’t fielded a fully healthy offense since Week 1 or 2.

That last part, in particular, gives me an insane amount of hope.  You see, I’ve thrown caution to the wind – I’m drinking the Honolulu Blue & Silver Kool-Aid.  I’m gulping it this year.  Because the Lions look exactly like a Super Bowl winner right now.  Go back through the last several winners – none of them were flawless midseason teams (sorry Denver).  They all looked good, though – but they all needed to take one more step, to find their groove.  This Lions team is 7-2 and has yet to find their groove.  Sure, they’re spot-on defensively, but they have an offense capable of putting up big points that has underperformed so far.  No one’s looking at them yet and realizing that if the offense starts to really click, this team becomes an immediate juggernaut.  Not only that, but this team looks mentally poised for it – they’re all hungry; they’re tired of being doormats, tired of the losing.  They’re excited.  They’re amped.  They don’t seem to think they deserve to win; but they do expect to win.  This is a huge mental leap, and it’s where this season’s luck is going to play huge – they know they can win in the last two minutes when they have a chance to.  Sure, they’ve gotten lucky – but guess what?  All good teams, all Super Bowl winners, snake a few lucky victories in the season – and they learn from them, get an edge from them.

The next three games are big for the Lions.  The Cardinals in Arizona, then the Patriots in Foxboro, then the Bears for Thanksgiving on a short week.  The Arizona game in particular looms large – it’s the meeting of the NFC’s surprise #1 and #2 teams; the winner of that game makes a statement and takes firm hold on the conference 1-seed.  Playing the Brady-led Patriots at Foxboro, well, that’s always a measuring stick of a game.  And Thanksgiving… well, it’s our annual Super Bowl Substitute.  It’s a big game for the fans.  If the Lions can come out of that stretch 2-1 – for a season line of 9-3 – they’ll be golden, with their final four games (not necessarily in this order) against Tampa Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, and Green Bay.  The hope is that the Week 17 matchup in Lambeau will be meaningless for playoff seeding (and that we’ll win anyway).

But make no mistake – this looks like an ascendant Lions team, their flaws aside.  And what flaws I’m seeing, besides the logic-defying kicking problems, seem limited to adjusting to a new scheme and getting everyone healthy.  These early season injuries, though?  The Lions are winning in spite of them, and better now than later – they could field an entirely healthy team in January, and if they do, and if that scheme has settled in and Prater is hitting FGs… well, this team could go all the way.  I’ve never said that about the Lions and felt completely confident about it, but I am now – this is a team that looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and I’m all in.

So, Victor Martinez re-signed with the Tigers.  Who knew?  I wasn’t expecting that.  I guess he must like the team; he is one of the big clubhouse leaders, to be sure.  And the money’s big.  But still, I feel like other teams pursuing him might be better long-term World Series contenders than the Tigers are.  But if the Tigers can add a couple more guys and solidify things, they can still make a good run in 2015.  But we said that about 2014, too, and that didn’t happen.  Still, the re-addition of V-Mart is a huge boost to the lineup and Cabrera in particular, as even if Victor’s numbers return to reality, he remains a potent .300/.300 switch hitter who’ll ensure Miggy sees good pitches.

I have to think they’ll go get Torii Hunter back now.  Even at $5M for one year, it just makes sense if they’re going to make another hard push in 2015.  The outfield prospects aren’t ready yet, and the market isn’t great.  Pick up Torii for another year and give Collins and Moya both a chance to prove themselves or platoon with him.

So this Adrian Peterson seems to be coming to a finale.  What a frustrating thing.  I mean, as a Lions fan, not seeing AP in the Vikings’ backfield is great.  But from a sheer reality perspective, I’m still stunned at what a mess this became.  Part of it was the timing with the Ray Rice incident, and part of it is Minnesotan sensibilities, too, but still.  I feel bad for the guy; he switched his kid and ended up in a mess.  He didn’t know better; it seemed clear that it was how he was raised, and what was expected from a father.  I thought it was a great opportunity for education and tolerance, but things swung the other way.  I just can’t help but think “hey, how is he supposed to know better if no one ever taught him”?  It’s a lot like the Michael Vick situation, in that Vick was only doing what he thought was perfectly normal and acceptable.  Outside of his community, it wasn’t; but he had no way of knowing that, just as AP had no way of knowing.  I doubt Chris Spielman or Leslie Frazier was sitting AP down for parenting lessons.  But maybe they should have been, and I wish the NFL and the Vikings had decided to do that as their course of action.

Now we have an awkward waiting period, as the league is going to decide on AP’s fate now that he pled out to a misdemeanor charge.  That’s pretty bogus, especially since they’re pushing it back to after this weekend.  Why not now?  I’ll tell you why – because I don’t think the Vikings want to face the PR of having to choose to play him or not.  The players and fans will welcome him back, I think, but the organization seems done with him.  They have a pretty nice built-in low cap hit if they cut him this offseason; even without this child abuse scandal, it seemed a very possible course of action, especially after drafting McKinnon.  Now?  It seems all but assured.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wylfs are whispering in Goodell’s ear right now, telling him to draw this out, to make sure they don’t have to face that choice.  They’d rather him rot on the commissioner’s exempt list rather than risk him playing and rushing his way back into the hearts of fans, then facing the PR flak of cutting him.  As it stands, if he doesn’t play again this year, I don’t think there’ll be much reaction to cutting him in the offseason.  He’ll just be looked at as another Randy Moss-ish figure in Minnesota sports history; immensely talented, fun to watch, beloved, but misunderstood and departed too soon.