I first saw headlines
about the death of NFL's star Adrian Peterson's young
son, I was shocked. And then I was confused.
because the two-year-old boy, Ty, had been viciously beaten by a man
apparently responsible for watching the child. It was an act of evil,
pure and simple. Confused, because the relationships between the
various parties was not clear. Quite the contrary.
Patterson, the man since charged with two felony counts of aggravated
battery of an infant and aggravated assault domestic, was the live-in
boyfriend of Ty's mother. They lived in South Dakota; Peterson, of
course, lives in Minnesota, where he is the record-chasing running
back for the Vikings.
Peterson been married to the mother? No. Peterson has never been
married. In fact, it turns out that Peterson was not even aware of
the boy's existence until a couple of months ago, and he had not seen
Ty in person prior to the beating. Peterson, however, is engaged, and
he has two children living with him, one of whom is also two years
to the New York Times.
said he offered financial support for Ty and Ty’s mother after he
learned he was the boy’s father. He was arranging to go to Sioux
Falls when the boy was injured on Oct. 9. Peterson skipped practice
on Oct. 10 to visit Ty in the hospital, the only time he saw him
alive. The next day, with Peterson back at practice, Ty died after he
was taken off life support.
various stories posted on ESPN.com and other sports-related sites
provided the basic facts of the story as they came available, but the
focus of many piecesand especially of television commentarywas
on whether or not Peterson would play in the Vikings' next game. And,
if so, how would he do? And so forth. Among the most interesting set
of quotes were these, in the Times story:
grieves in a different manner,” Vikings long snapper Cullen
Loeffler said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s actually caught in
this situation. We’re here to support him anything that he
needs or anything we can help him through.”
said: “People are going to speculate. People are going to say this
and that. I can’t let that bother me.
too focused on trying to mourn, be there for his mother, taking in
the loss of my son,” he continued. “I haven’t been able to
focus on anything else outside of that.”
quote is itself unfortunate and we probably shouldn't read too much
into it. But the remark, "It’s unfortunate that he’s
actually caught in this situation," is quite surreal,
nonetheless. Granted, the vicious and fatal actions of an adult
cannot be directly placed on anyone else. But there are plenty of
serious questions here. Yet few commentators, especially in the
sports news industry, have been willing to tackle them (pun
intended), one notable exception being Susan Reimer of the Baltimore
who wrote a column, "Adrian
Peterson's version of 'Parenthood'" (Oct 16th), that took on
the elephant in the room:
the days since the child's death, it has come to light that the
unmarried Mr. Peterson may have had as many as five children by four
different women. They include a 6-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy
by his current girlfriend, a 4-year-old with a dancer in a
"gentleman's club" in Dallas and a 3-month-old with a
waitress in Minnesota. He is said to be providing financial support
to those children.
of this transpired at the conclusion of a week when the call for the
Washington Redskins to abandon a nickname viewed by some as offensive
reached fever pitch, culminating in sportscaster Bob Costas'
self-righteous address, delivered during halftime of Sunday Night
Barack Obama has suggested that owner Dan Snyder think about changing
the name, the league is applying pressure on the team, and any number
of sportswriters have said they will not use the name in their
so far, nobody has criticized Adrian Peterson for his careless and
cavalier sexual behavior.
suspect that few have publicly criticized Peterson for his various
off-the-field exploits, in part, because a substantial number of
professional athletes carry on in the same way (Ray Lewissix
children by four womencomes to mind, as does Shawn Kempseven
kids by six womenas well as Dwight Howardfive kids by five
womenand so forth; the list is long). Plus, there is the fact that
many sports commentators, whether on television or the radio, are
about the most politically-correct collection of group thinkers
you'll ever find. They will rant and rail day and night about Michael
Vick being "scum of the earth" (as the local sports guy
here in Eugene, Oregon, refers to him) for running a dog-fighting
ring, but they won't say a thing about athletes rutting like crazed
rabbits, "fathering" children left and right, or having
their impregnated girlfriends get abortions.
be fair, Sports Illustrated
ran a major piece in 1998, by Grant
Wahl and L. Jon Wertheim, detailing what was already a huge problem
in professional sports in the United States. One takeaway quote:
“'I'd say that there might be more kids out of wedlock than there
are players in the NBA,' estimates one of the league's top agents,
who says he spends more time dealing with paternity claims than he
does negotiating contracts.” Ah, the thrill of victory, the agony
of a positive paternity claim.)
asks, "While the death of the boy is a horrible tragedy, that
doesn't disqualify us from considering Mr. Peterson's casual approach
to parenthood. Why are we so indifferent to this kind of casual,
serial fatherhood?" The reasons are many, but three stand out.
First, the sexual revolution has, with a sort of perverse logic,
brought us to the point where judgments about "private"
behavior are considered out of bounds, even while the depiction of
such behavior can be seen and heard nearly anywhere and everywhere.
When "everyone is doing it," few are going to buck the
system and question the self-serving habits of the age. Besides, it
can be reasonably argued that what is taking place among wealthy
athletes merely reflects what is taking place throughout society,
regardless of socio-economic status, as U.S. News & World
earlier this year:
African-American women reported the highest rate of out-of-wedlock
births, at 67.8 percent. American Indian or Alaska Native women
reported a 64 percent rate, while Hispanics reported 43 percent and
non-Hispanic whites reported 26 percent. Asian-Americans reported the
lowest rate of out-of-wedlock births, at 11.3 percent.
our entertainment-obsessed culture is not that interested in judging
the objective goodness of acts, but usually fixates on how "exciting"
or "different" or "entertaining" a person or
their actions are. Likable figures tend to get a pass on most
actions, while those deemed unlikable are raked over the coals;
that's part of the game. Peterson is a great gridiron talent who
overcame a serious knee injury to lead the NFL in rushing last year,
and is thus likable. And so it would be deemed poor taste to say much
of anything about his fathering ways, especially since it is much
easier to cast him as a tragic figure. Never mind that study after
study shows that a substantial amount of child abuse occurs
at the hands of live-in boyfriends, or that children raised by
single mothers are far
more prone to every sort of "at risk" behavior.
third reason is that fatherhood is badly misunderstood and often
badly misrepresented in the dominant culture. A perfect example of
this, one that is especially fitting in the context of the Peterson,
is found in this
August 8, 2013, ESPN interview with Philip Rivers, longtime
quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, which featured four fairly
negative questions from various online sources. Rivers and his wife,
are Catholic, have six children and are expecting their seventh.
One of the four questions was not even really a question, nor was it
about football: "Six kids? Regardless of your profession, it's
impossible to be a good parent to six kids. Not enough hours in the
answered; "It's a two-year rotation: Once the diapers come off
of one, we usually have a newborn. And we have another one on the
way, due in October. I help when I can, but my wife, Tiffany, is the
key. My big, growing family keeps everything balanced and grounded.
My oldest is 11 now, and the kids are getting into football. They're
Daddy's biggest fans, and they don't get on you as bad as most fans.
If you throw an interception, they still love you."
who says it's impossible to be a good parent to six kids is fairly
clueless about real parenting and true fatherhood. Not that every
family needs to have six or more kids, of course, but almost all of
the large families I've ever been around have not lacked for love,
attention, structure, and good parenting.
good friend, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, recently penned a column,
"Mothers Are Not Fathers," that summed up several
important truths in a relatively short space, including the
fact is that God allows earthly fathers to use his name, and with
this great privilege comes an awesome responsibility: a
responsibility, sadly, that many men have not taken seriously or have
ignored completely leading to the “mothers are both mom and dad”
mentality. A man becomes a man and a father by doing things
that a father ought to do. In revealing and in reliving on
earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure
stability and harmony within the family. He does this by
exercising generous and selfless responsibility for the life
conceived in the womb of the mother; by taking a more active role in,
and making a more serious commitment to his children's education and
prayer life, a task that he shares with his wife; by working in a job
that is never the cause of division within the family but promotes
and provides for its security and unity; and, most importantly, by
being a living witness and example to his children of what it means
to live and act as a man of God, showing his children first-hand what
it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and how
that relationship is lived-out daily by loving the truth, goodness,
and beauty of our Catholic faith.
man can be a daddy but it takes a real man to be a father, and the
sooner we earthly fathers begin to appreciate the great gift we have
been given and begin living the mission of service to our
familieswhen we begin to make a gift of ourselves to our wives and
children, and participate deeply and personally in the Fatherhood of
Godthe faster we will arrive at a civilization of love and a
culture of life rooted in the transforming power of the Father's
endless mercy and love.
very true. When men fail to be fathers, a civilization of love cannot
be established, nor can it flourish. Instead, a culture of lust,
use, abuse, and death will develop and spread like a cancer. And who are
the victims? The most vulnerable, beginning with young children.
However, that fact is not only not entertaining, it is very
inconvenient, which means we'll continue to hear plenty about the
unforgivable sin of dog-fighting and the blight of supposedly
offensive team names but not too much about the many young
children dying to have a real father.