The news of Adrian Peterson is everywhere, smeared in bold text across the tops of newspapers and magazines. Chat rooms are overwhelmed with debates between those who condemn him and those who support him. As usual, everyone has an opinion. Everyone seems to know what the right choice is for Peterson, the Vikings, the NFL and the legal system. But let’s step outside of those arguments and take a broader look at what is really going on, because the big picture is far more enlightening.
The scary truth here is not that a single man abused his son; it’s that our culture exhibits a wide pattern of violence and aggression, and Peterson is just one isolated – albeit public – case out of thousands of similar cases. We live in a culture that showcases violence in hundred-million-dollar movies and has tournaments for kids playing video games in which they kill each other. It seems impossible to listen to the news without hearing about another school shooting, bomb threat, mugging or even just random acts of raw hostility and violence.
We like to brush this off and say it has nothing to do with us – but it does. All of these acts of violence are committed by people who live in community with us. And, as is now demonstrated by Adrian Peterson, even the people we idolize are not exempt. That’s at least a part of why this incident strikes a chord with so many people; it makes this unsettling part of our culture visible for all to see. And we don’t like seeing it.
What Peterson did was wrong. But I think this situation really brings forth many questions for our society, rather than just the moral deficiencies of a single man. I think many of us are searching for an explanation for how Peterson, a man of wealth and influence, could somehow not know that abuse is wrong. What worries me is how grievously his family, friends, education, career and fellow football players failed him, leaving him to feel that this was just. Education failed. Peterson’s cohorts and advisors failed. Yes, what Peterson did was wrong, and he will face the consequences of his actions, but society plays a larger role in this.
Considering the violence that is all around us, it is clear that something is terribly wrong with our culture. What breaks my heart the most is that cases like this only perpetuate our sickness.
We spend our time defending or attacking Peterson, the Vikings and the NFL, and it distracts us from the larger issue. This situation could be the cornerstone in our fight against violence in our culture, but it won’t be. Instead, we spend our days blocking out the larger perspective. We either want Peterson punished or protected.
I want our culture to change. Whichever systems that failed Peterson so miserably, I want them fixed – so that this never happens again. I want students to learn what is right and wrong. I want family and cohorts to know how to look out for us and make sure we are instilled with the right values. It only takes one person to start a fight, but it takes all of us to stop the fight. And I want the fight to stop.
The first step is accepting that this problem is much, much larger than just Adrian Peterson and football.
Graphic Credit: ERIN KNADLER/MANITOU MESSENGER