Adrian Peterson entered the league as a great running back. Six years later, he is proving that superstars don't have to be super conceited.
Peterson's drive for greatness on the field is complemented by a desire to use his superstar status to affect others off the field, and he isn't afraid to speak his mind.
At one point, his willingness to share a candid opinion – at times a dying trait among athletes looking to protect their reputation by simply being bland – got him in hot water. It was an ill-advised comment comparing the NFL lockout of 2011 to "modern-day slavery." He later apologized for that and realized it was a terrible choice of words.
Since then, however, Peterson has also expressed his opinion on a couple other controversial topics, simply because he was asked about them and doesn't back down from offering an opinion any more than he backs away from contact on the field. It's a refreshing approach.
Frankly, I'm not sure why athletes' opinions on political or social issues really matter, but apparently to many they do. Those opinions can generate some of the most-read stories, as if an athlete (or entertainer of any sort) is predisposed to know more about war or social conflict than the average citizen. Still, Peterson gains respect here for openly offering his opinion on just about anything when he is asked about it. My guess is that he feels it would be disrespectful to offer a "no comment" or any other form of more strongly worded rebuke that has been thrown back at reporters from star athletes on occasion.
Punter Chris Kluwe has made a point to offer his opinion on whatever controversial subject strongly moves him. It's helped him gain an incredible following on Twitter, as well as political and gossip web sites. Most notably, Kluwe has embraced the cause of gay marriage, gaining popularity by standing up for a group that he believes has been wronged.
Peterson didn't offer up his opinion on the matter until asked, but he took a different stance than Kluwe – one formulated on religion.
"To each his own, (but) I'm not with it," Peterson told SiriusXM NFL Radio in May. "I have relatives that are gay. I'm not biased towards them. I still treat them the same. I love them. But, again, I'm not with that. That's not something I believe in. But to each his own."
Local reporters had the chance to further the story when Peterson was available during organized team activities and training camp. Weary of the topic after Kluwe's barrage of support for gay marriage, the subject was put to rest among Vikings players … at least for now.
Still, Peterson had a response ready if asked. If not, as the case turned out to be, he opted not to force the issue.
More recently, Peterson wasn't afraid to address the whispers from some people that believe he must have taken performance-enhancing drugs to speed his recovery from surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in December 2011. He returned from that surgery to play less than nine months later and came within eight months of tying Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
Asked about those whispers (formulated without proof), Peterson didn't take offense or get defensive. Instead, he took it as compliment – another sign of his unique ability to turn negatives into positives (whether we're talking about rushing opportunities or life's opportunities).
"To be honest with you, it makes me feel good when people say little stuff like that, and I'm sure it happens all the time. I guess I am performing that well that people think I'm juicing, that I am taking something. That really shows me how much God has blessed me to be able to come back and play the way I played. To me, it's a compliment (the PED talk)," Peterson told CBSSports.com. "I've always been an honest person. I never cheated the system. I am big on taking advantage of my natural abilities and applying work ethic to it to be able to climb the highest level. People make that decision to do that (PEDS), but I'm not that individual. I feel like I'd be cheating myself and things I've accomplished would be void. That's not what I am about."
Peterson could have taken the PED question as a slap in the face, whether coming from a reporter or a player on the field – both of which happened. Instead, he used it as an opportunity to explain to those who didn't get to see his incredibly dedicated work ethic behind the scenes.
There were sprints just months after the surgery, followed by running around an oversize hula-hoop to work on his stability, and plyometric jumps that easily cleared what most healthy humans could accomplish no matter if they never had surgery. Next came the running of the hills at Winter Park and then grueling workouts pulling sleds, trainers and anything else that could be tethered to him under the intense heat of training camp.
His first carry since the injury was in the 2012 regular-season opener. His last carry of the regular season nearly set the single-season record.
"It's like trying to tackle a wild horse – he's just bucking," Buccaneers safety Mark Barron said as Peterson was picked by his fellow players as the top player for 2013 on NFL Network. "You literally have to wrestle him down. He's not going to go down easy."
Nor is his platform.
As long as Peterson is such a dynamic running back and possesses a personality that pulls people toward him instead of pushing them away, as countless other stars have done, he will be asked about his efforts and his opinions. Some of them will focus on football. A few will center on social issues.
Here's hoping Peterson continues to address both with equal honesty.
"God put us here for a reason," he told CBSSport.com. "When I have this platform, not only this but to be a role model to kids, to be able to inspire people through my life trials that I have overcome – even more so off the field. To have people look up to me and say, ‘You know what, Adrian came back from the ACL and everybody else doubted him. He beat the odds.' It feels good to know that God gave me the ability and the mindset to focus, to be able to beat what other people say about the injury and set a mark for our youth and the world to be able to look at. If he did it, I can do it as well. That's what it's all about. If I didn't have the type of season I had, people would still think for sure it's nine months to a year (and) two years truly before you come back from an ACL injury. That's not the case now. So it's good to know I was able to set that standard."
That applies to his life, too. He saw his brother die in front of him and his father ended up in jail during his formative years.
He's willing to talk about it all to offer hope and perspective for others. For that and his candid honestly without an overdose of self-promotion, Peterson is an MVP off the field, too.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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