The Minnesota Vikings have had about 1,000 players as part of the team's history, meaning they played in at least one game, according to their media guide.
Adrian Peterson represents one-tenth of one percent of those players with a single-line listing in the all-time roster section, but his significance to the organization is obviously much, much more. He is the one that spurred the richest contract for a running back in NFL history when he reached his seven-year, $100 million extension last September. He is the one whose jersey sales top the team's list and he is the only non-quarterback to have a weekly scheduled press conference with reporters during the season.
Adrian Peterson sells. He sells because of his indisputable athletic gifts. He sells because of his million-dollar smile. And he sells because Adrian Peterson, the person, appears 100 percent genuine.
That's a reputation worth protecting and Peterson has been investing in that proposition over the last week since he was arrested in the early-morning hours of July 7 for resisting arrest.
The Houston Police Department says Peterson was confronted by an off-duty police officer working security for the Live! at Bayou Place nightclub shortly after the bar closed and his group was told to leave. The man identified himself as an off-duty police officer, according to the Houston PD, and returned to tell Peterson's party to leave one more time after the officer had informed other patrons. At that time, according to the police, Peterson shoved the officer, causing him to stumble and sending other officers over to subdue Peterson and place him under arrest.
Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin – who also successfully represented Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens in his perjury trial after he was accused of lying to Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drug – says a very different account of the incident will emerge when he puts several witnesses on the stand, if necessary.
Likely, Peterson could have made it all go away for a fine of up to $4,000. That's 5/100ths of a percent of the Money Peterson is scheduled to earn in 2012 on an $8 million bases salary. It would be easy as outrunning a nose tackle for Peterson to quickly put the incident behind him and pay the fine … if he was willing to concede that he made a mistake, or at least one big enough to be led away in handcuffs.
Peterson isn't willing to make that concession, and if the truth of what happened shortly after 2 a.m. July 7 in Houston is closer to Hardin's version of the story than the report offered by the arresting officer, then Peterson shouldn't lie down to a false or tainted accounting of the incident. Hardin has said in separate radio interviews that he has somewhere between three and six independent eye-witnesses that will say Peterson wasn't at fault and was instead, as Hardin put it, the "victim, not the aggressor" in what may have been a case of too much machismo.
To a player like Peterson, who is averaging $14.2 million annually on his seven-year contract, money isn't the issue. His reputation is at stake, and it's a strong one he is trying to defend.
This isn't to say Peterson is completely innocent … or guilty. Either way, I don't know. Only a select few patrons who witnessed the altercation know for sure how it went down, but what I do know is what I've seen from Peterson in the past five years. Nothing but respect … for military, for the sick or disabled, for coaches and – stand and shudder – even the media.
Only a select few players, Randy Moss and Brett Favre, have even entered the same stratosphere as Peterson when it comes to popularity among the Purple faithful over the last 15 years or so. Beyond his weekly and post-game press conferences, Favre wasn't much for talking to the media (besides Ed Werder) and wasn't around long enough to truly cultivate a longstanding relationship with the fans. Moss' polarizing ways eventually polarized his initially strong support group of fans. Some stick with him longer than any coach, from his initial 17-touchdown season as a rookie to his petulant attitude eventually wearing thin with two different coaching regimes.
Whereas Peterson will stop to talk even on his worst day – like the day he said he was moving up his knee surgery because of the pain he was experiencing or the day he fumbled five times in the 2009 NFC Championship Game – Moss would tell members of the public relations staff to get reporters out of locker area and pepper his rant with inappropriate slurs to send his message.
Peterson isn't perfect. His comparison of last year's NFL lockout to slavery was probably the most boneheaded comment he ever offered publicly. It might have been the most lasting for some people, too, which is why clearing his otherwise respectable reputation is so important. As his father, Nelson, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week, Peterson is concerned about how his arrest will affect his 9-year-old daughter. While other well-known professional athletes (and thousands of little-known everyday citizens) bail on their responsibilities of child support, Peterson's support goes beyond the financial.
Hardin waited until he had time to investigate the incident before releasing a statement. Peterson didn't wait quite that long, using his Twitter account last Sunday to quote Winston Churchill, tweeting, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
Once Hardin's investigation got legs, he gave the police account a stiff kick in the pants, calling it a "total fabrication" and going on the offensive to pick it apart during interviews.
"(Peterson) was struck at least twice in the face for absolutely no legitimate reason, and when all the evidence is impartially reviewed, it will clearly show Adrian was the victim, not the aggressor," Hardin said in a statement.
By the time Aug. 6 rolls around for his next court appearance, prosecutors may decide to drop Peterson's case altogether. Few who feel they know Peterson would be surprised. If, in fact, he did act as the police described, it would certainly be out of character. Sure, Hardin admitted, Peterson was drinking, but the attorney either didn't know or didn't say how much and also said Peterson was smart enough to hire a driver.
Since I've been around Vikings players, starting in the mid-1990s, I haven't met a bigger personality who has been able to maintain the humble, respectful attitude Peterson takes with seemingly everyone he encounters. In talking with other reporters whose work goes beyond the NFL, he is one of the tops in their books, too. Most reporters aren't foolish enough to believe that talking to a player in a professional setting a once or twice a week really gives them a true look into the complete life of the player, but as much as most can tell about Peterson, he appears to be the genuine article.
In other words, he has a reputation worth defending.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Peterson's rep worth protecting
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:57 PM