NFL running back Adrian Peterson (AP) unarguably suffered a tragedy last week in the death of his young son. But another quiet, subtle injury to the football player saddened me for a different reason.
Two articles published by major news sources shifted the lens from the pervasive problem of domestic violence against African-American women and children to the number of kids Peterson has sired. (TMZ’s current count is seven). New York Post writer Phil Mushnick used his superior intelligence to inform us that just because Peterson runs like a Greek god, it doesn’t make him a great human being. Tasteful, Mushnick, bravo. Susan Reimer, of the Baltimore Sun, gets right to the point and makes jabs at Peterson’s ostensibly failed fatherhood–in the wake of his child’s death.
At first, I couldn’t put a finger on just why the articles bothered me. I have my own feelings about men who father several children with whom they don’t live. I don’t like it. Period. But that wasn’t at issue here. The insensitivity jarred me but something else lurked beneath it: hypocrisy.
Critics questioned AP’s decision to play the day after the boy’s death, framing it as a consequence of his recent discovery of paternity. But I did not fall off the turnip truck into NFL fandom yesterday. I clearly recall when former Minnesota Viking of Wrangler and Cheesehead fame, Brett Favre, lost his father the weekend before a Monday Night Football game. It probably helped that he put on a thrilling performance to help the Packers win. America wrapped its arms around Favre. Lauded him as a hero and bastion of American sports bravery.
Obviously, Peterson did not get this treatment. Maybe because the Vikings lost their game this past Sunday, despite AP’s decent ground effort. Writers questioned his “inhuman” decision to play through his pain, his right to sort through his grief as he saw fit. Juxtaposed with the language bestowed on Favre, the difference stymies logic.
Mainstream conversation on Peterson transformed into a theater of monstrosity with pointed fingers, horrified sensibilities, and more than a little bit of self-righteous glee. Writers whipped out the word “baby mama” and paraded it throughout their write-ups. This term is fraught with racial implications. Even when used by white speakers toward other whites, it is in jest, language for comedic effect. When aimed at black folks, baby mama is slur and indictment, on par with welfare queen and deadbeat dad.
And it is precisely because they chose those words that I know race plays a significant part in why Adrian Peterson’s tragedy is now his trial. Black America’s “Daddy Problem” has been spoken about by everyone from Don Lemon to Rush Limbaugh, from Bill Cosby to President Obama. Cultural pundits turn the infamous 70% out-of-wedlock black births statistic inside out to either prove the decline or normalcy of Black America.
AP is simply another baby daddy to many of them, progenitor of another batch of fatherless black kids to incarcerate later. He is archetype, arch villain. No one bothers to dig deeper. Instead, Peterson–and other black men like him–are blacklisted as pathologically randy men who cannot keep it in their pants.
Make no mistake: this is not a defense of AP’s character, which honestly, I can’t speak on. Rather, I am upset that critics see fit to paint him monstrous and unfeeling, a rutting beast of sorts, unworthy of simple human sympathy at the death of a child. AP doesn’t know how to find a condom? AP has sex with strippers?! He should be better than that. The only thing I know for sure about AP is that he is human.
I will attribute part of the moral superiority to the culture of celebrity watching, which seeks to simultaneously sketch celebs as “just like us” and “freakish people.” AP is worthy of praise so long as he is using his freakishly talented black body to garner points for fantasy football teams and money for billionaires. Regardless, Peterson can grieve the loss of a child he barely knew, just as a parent can grieve the loss of a baby that did not live to full term.
Let detractors flap their gums and caw their displeasure at the alleged seven children Adrian Peterson fathered. I admonish them to remember that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and that an innocent boy has sadly demonstrated the need for such awareness. The specter of murderous perpetrators–of whatever race–is far more monstrous than any caricature of a black man they could paint. May Peterson grieve in peace.