Adrian Peterson is playing NFL football today, and I’m not going to judge him for it.
His 2-year-old son was killed Friday, allegedly at the hands of a man with a violent past, and many feel it’s wrong for the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player to be suiting up for the Minnesota Vikings today.
To me, that’s a complete non-story. But it is a lot easier to moralize about the insignificant than to focus on the circumstances that led to the death of a baby boy.
It’s much easier to indulge the tired sports cliché of a great athlete “overcoming adversity” in a battle against the Carolina Panthers.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
How about the adversity faced by the 2-year-old victim?
According to law enforcement authorities, the mother of Peterson’s son was living with a man who was on a suspended sentence for domestic violence in the South Dakota city of Sioux Falls. The suspect is a 27-year-old named Joey Patterson.
“(Patterson) was indicted in June 2012 on several counts of simple assault involving an ex-girlfriend and her 3-year-old son, and later was charged for violating a no-contact order,” wrote the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “He was sentenced to one year in jail for both cases, but that time was suspended on the condition he attend domestic violence counseling.”
Another woman had filed a protective order against Patterson in 2004, according to the Argus Leader.
We know from authorities that the mother of the victim left the child alone with Patterson.
Sioux Falls law enforcement said Patterson called 911 and reported that the child had suffered accidental injuries.
But the local medical examiner found extensive injuries that authorities believe are consistent with abuse. Police were called, Patterson was arrested and the child died.
Social media exploded with expressions of sympathy for Adrian Peterson, from everyday people to famous people, including tweets from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, NBA star LeBron James and many more.
There was an air of disbelief attached to the coverage of this story – as if it were doubly shocking that the victim was the child of someone so strong and famous.
It’s always shocking when a child is killed. It’s the worst kind of crime against humanity. But the details surrounding this death aren’t much different from thousands of child deaths across America that get a fraction of the media coverage.
We may find that the condolences directed toward Peterson, while well-intended and heartfelt, were heightened greatly by his celebrity. And they were about us projecting our own feelings about our children onto a man who may not have had a relationship with the child who was killed.
That doesn’t mean that Peterson doesn’t deserve sympathy for his loss or that he and the mother of the victim are to blame for what happened. The suspect in this case is the one awaiting judgment and potential punishment for an unspeakable crime.
But there’s only one primary victim, and it’s accurate to say that this child was exposed to danger. He also fits a profile that is all too common in America.
Data from 2011 analyzed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that 80 percent of the 1,570 U.S. children who died from abuse were 4 or younger.
African American children made up 21 percent of the 681,000 child-abuse victims. Perpetrators of child abuse were overwhelmingly biological parents of the victims, but the data showed that in 13 percent of child abuse cases the perpetrators were not parents.
The same data showed that nearly 60,000 child-abuse victims were visually or hearing impaired or had other medical conditions.
That’s an epidemic of abuse deserving a sliver of the focused attention Peterson will get today.
In truth, there is so much about the case involving Peterson’s child that we don’t know.
On Friday, many media outlets showed an image of Peterson – in full football uniform – bending down to kiss a beautiful little boy.
By Saturday, it was becoming clearer that the child bringing tears to the eyes of many was not the victim at all but another child – Adrian Peterson Jr.
I pray for Peterson as many do – and for the mother of the victim. But more than anything, I pray for the child. Like everyone I know, I can’t fathom the mindset of any adult who could be so cruel to a child.
And I must admit feeling anger when imagining the final moments of an innocent baby who was completely alone when he needed someone to protect him.