Holler: Healing begins for Peterson, Vikings

Adrian Peterson finally spoke in public and showed the side of him that many fans never get to see. He admitted his mistake and is ready to move on, hoping for healing that many groups could use.

After almost nine months of turmoil and animosity, it would appear that the healing process has begun between the Minnesota Vikings, their fans and star running back Adrian Peterson.

In a candid 18 minutes fielding media questions for the first time in a public forum in almost nine months, fans got to see a different side of Peterson that typically only teammates, coaches and those who hang around the Vikings locker room have seen.

It was something that was needed. Anyone who knows Peterson knows that he has a passion for football. It’s effectively all he’s ever known. It’s been his job since middle school when the first coaches and scouts saw the extraordinary talent he possesses.

As a result, he’s constantly been asked questions – some insightful, some ridiculously out of touch. Nobody on the Vikings has been interviewed as often as Peterson because, when he talks, people listen.

But on Tuesday the line of questioning was far different from what he’s had to deal with in the past. Typically, unless it’s in a one-on-one setting, personal questions are generally regarded as either being out of bounds or none of the questioner’s business. That changed during his press conference at Winter Park.

For the first time, fans got to hear Peterson acknowledge that he made a mistake and that he’s looking to move forward – both phrases he said multiple times during his 18-minute press conference. He knew the questions were going to be ones that he wouldn’t be comfortable answering, but they were ones that needed to be asked to start getting closure on the situation.

Head coach Mike Zimmer gave the introduction to the press conference and it is becoming more and more clear that Zimmer may well have been the architect of the reconciliation that began this morning as Peterson returned to Winter Park for the first time since being placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List last September.

Zimmer spoke in measured tones, sounding as more like a father than a coach, saying that he, the players and the coaching staff unequivocally welcomed Peterson back with open arms into the Vikings family. He used terms that were heartfelt and paternal, saying Peterson has his 100-percent support, that the Wilf ownership has never wavered in their support, that there was never a time when the team seriously entertained the idea of trading him and that he loves A.P.

“Love” isn’t a word often spoken in the high-testosterone world of the NFL, but it is something that is genuinely felt between teammates and in the coach/player relationship. Cynics will question the use of the term “family” in discussions of NFL teams – many think it is more akin to a Mafia family given the quick end that comes to so many relationships when teams and players do what they believe is best for business – but both Zimmer and Peterson were able to get the point across that their relationship is strong and will continue to be so as the team starts ramping up its preparation for the 2015 season.

The most frustrating part of this process for fans has been the lack of communication from Peterson’s own mouth. It’s one thing when his father makes a comment or his agent starts firing shots across the bow, which Peterson said was Ben Dogra simply doing his job. It’s another when the words and the expressions come straight from the source.

The missing ingredient has been Peterson taking ownership of his mistake and showing contrition. It was always there, but the silence over the last nine months from the Peterson camp was deafening. The silence was broken Tuesday and Peterson gave all indications that he was sorry for what happened, he and his son have made their peace with one another, that he was wrong in the form of discipline he used and that, in the end, he’ll be a better father and a better man because of it.

It was a side of Peterson that those of us who deal with him on a regular basis have seen most of the time. He isn’t the monster that he has been portrayed as in the world of public opinion, but until he stepped in front of a microphone and got bombarded with questions, there were lingering doubts as to whether he felt what he had done was wrong.

After nine months, Peterson was finally home at Winter Park, a place where he has seen the highest and highs and the lowest of lows since being drafted by the Vikings eight years ago. It was likely a surreal feeling taking the same route to work that he has done for the better part of the last decade and seeing members of his extended family – from equipment Dennis Ryan, the first person he saw when he entered the locker room, to his teammates old and new.

In the 18 minutes he was at the podium, Peterson was soft-spoken, didn’t duck or dodge questions and, at long last, gave his side of the story. He refused to play the “victim card” – a sign that he realized the gravity of the mistake he made and the consequences that came along with it.

In the end, for those who still see Peterson as a villain or a child abuser, anything he had to say Tuesday won’t suffice as an explanation to them. For those who just care about Peterson because of his extraordinary prowess as the greatest running back of his generation, what he had to say doesn’t matter as long as he’s back. For the majority of people who fall in between those two poles, it was a chance to finally hear his side of the story and see that he is repentant and appears genuinely sorry for what he did to his son.

We’re a society of second chances in the United States. We’re suckers for a comeback story because it tells you a lot about a person trying to reclaim his or her life and repair the damage – real or perceived – that was done. Peterson went a long way to closing out this ugly chapter in the life of his son and himself. He indicated his family is strong and moving forward. His Vikings family would appear to be heading in the same direction.

After a year of darkness, Peterson has emerged into the light a changed man and someone looking for career and personal reclamation.

It’s time to let that healing begin.

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