The Minnesota Vikings have seen the details. They have seen photos of the injuries that Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son suffered at the hands of the star running back. They have a history of punishing players who have run into trouble with the law.
The Vikings brought Peterson back to the team anyway even as the public furor over the NFL’s approach to addressing domestic abuse reached a fever pitch.
The Vikings reinstated Peterson on Monday, one day after he sat out a 30-7 home loss to the New England Patriots after he was charged with a felony in Texas for using a wooden switch to spank his son. Peterson, who said he was using a form of discipline his father used on him as a boy, is expected to play against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
“We are trying to do the right thing,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “This is a difficult path to navigate regarding the judgment of how a parent disciplines his child. Based on the extensive information we have right now and what we know of Adrian not only as a person but what he’s done for this community, we believe he deserves to play while the legal process plays out.”
Peterson didn’t talk with reporters, but issued a statement in which he insisted he is not a child abuser and wanted “everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child.”
“I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser,” Peterson said in a nearly 500-word statement issued through his agency. “I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury.
“No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day.”
Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said they decided to bring back Peterson for practices and Sunday’s game at New Orleans “after significant thought, discussion and consideration.” The Wilfs said they want to let the case play out before making any more definitive decisions on Peterson’s future with the only NFL team he has ever played for.
“To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child,” they said. “At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action.”
The Wilfs were not available for further comment on Monday but Spielman said they are going to leave the decision about whether Peterson crossed a line while disciplining his son up to the courts.
“For a league full of people that claim to care about leadership, there sure seems to be a bunch of followers,” ESPN analyst and former quarterback Tim Hasselbeck tweeted.
Peterson faces a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, which carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His initial court appearance in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, was scheduled for Oct. 8.
Corporal punishment is legal in Texas and non-deadly force against a child by a parent or guardian is permissible. But the punishment is abusive if it causes injury. A blow that leaves a bruise, welt or swelling, or requires medical attention, could be judged abusive. The guidelines also say use of an instrument “is cause for concern.”
Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said Peterson used a switch because that was the way he was brought up by his parents in Palestine, Texas, and the NFL star agreed.
“I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen,” Peterson said. “I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child. I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.”
He noted that many people feel “very strongly” about corporal punishment, but said “regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person.”
The Vikings decided to sit Peterson against the Patriots, moving swiftly after a week in which the NFL came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a domestic violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Spielman said the Vikings have seen files the authorities have built on Peterson’s case, including some photos of the injuries the boy sustained.
“The photos are disturbing. I understand that,” Spielman said. “But to be clear, any matter that’s involving the child is very important for this organization. But we also think it is right for him to go through the process legally.”
The Vikings clearly see Peterson’s case as different from the 2011 case involving former cornerback Chris Cook, who was accused of choking his girlfriend and charged with domestic assault. Cook was suspended by the team, reinstated with pay and then barred from all team activities, including games, while the legal process unfolded.
Cook wound up missing 10 games and was eventually acquitted. He never faced discipline from the NFL and played two more seasons with the Vikings before signing with the 49ers.
The Vikings also cut cornerback A.J. Jefferson last year, less than a day after he was arrested for domestic assault. In 2012, the Vikings cut practice squad running back Caleb King hours after he was released from jail after allegedly inflicting serious harm on another man in a fight.
“Why are due process rights only reserved for the privileged (and) for those at the top of the roster?” former linebacker Scott Fujita tweeted.
But Spielman steadfastly denied the team’s decision on Peterson had anything to do with his status as one of the best players in the league and his ability to help the team win.
“It has nothing to do with him as a football player,” Spielman said. “It’s based purely on the facts that we have that have been presented to us.”
The NFL is looking into Peterson’s case, and if convicted he could face a minimum six-game suspension under the league’s new domestic abuse policy that was implemented after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he botched Rice’s initial punishment.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he had input during deliberations, but ultimately it was ownership’s decision to let him play again.
“It’s important that when I ask these players to do the things I ask them to do, to fight for me, to run through the wall for me, that I’m able do my very best to help support them when I can,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings’ decision to reinstate Peterson came on the same day the NFL announced that three experts in domestic violence will serve as senior advisers to the league and help shape policy.
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