Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and his wife, Michele, have adopted six children. This makes Spielman a highly unlikely candidate to stand up for a child abuser. But whether he realizes it or not, that’s what he just did.
This is the NFL in 2014. I keep waiting for the league to announce Bring Your Morals to Work Day. Well, maybe soon.
The reality for Spielman: The Vikings did not hire him to care about kids. They hired him to win games. And in order to do that, he needs Adrian Peterson on the field -- not on the sidelines, being punished for what looks pretty clearly like child abuse.
Peterson was essentially suspended for Sunday’s game, two days after he was indicted. We may never know whether Spielman agreed with that decision. But he certainly played a role in reinstating Peterson this week.
"We feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child," Spielman told the media Monday. "Whether it’s an abusive situation or not, or whether he went too far disciplining, we feel very strongly that that is the court’s decision to make."
Peterson’s legal fate will indeed be decided by the courts, and he has two factors in his favor. One is a brilliant lawyer, Rusty Hardin. The other is location. Does a Texas jury really want to tell a football star how to raise his kids? I’m skeptical. It would not be surprising if prosecutors agree to a deal that is favorable to Peterson, rather than risk defeat.
But a Texas jury does not own the Vikings. The Wilf family does. The Wilfs are many things -- brilliant and cutthroat businessmen, for one -- but they are also East Coast Liberals, and you can be sure that they don’t enjoy going to charity dinners and having friends wonder why they support a child abuser. They haven’t publicly stated their opinions on corporal punishment, or on Peterson. But they move in circles where people do not publicly approve of hitting 4-year-olds with a "switch."
Well, they just publicly approved of it. Or at least, publicly showed that what Peterson did is not that big a deal to them.
There is really no argument about what Peterson did. Peterson admitted to police he hit his child, and Hardin indicated that Peterson’s words were not twisted or forced. Peterson clearly abused his 4-year-old to the point where there were marks on the boy several days later. Peterson thinks (or thought) he did the right thing. I find it sickening. I don’t know how you can do that to a 4-year-old and live with yourself.
So how can the Vikings stand by him? We now know that two mothers of Peterson’s children have accused him of abuse, though only one resulted in charges. Shouldn’t that bother Spielman? Shouldn’t it bother Vikings owner Zygi Wilf? Remember, when Wilf took over as Vikings owner, he was quickly faced with a different scandal: The “Love Boat” trip in which several Vikings reportedly participated in sex acts aboard a rented boat. Wilf implemented a code of conduct for the team. The Love Boat incident was a PG movie compared to this.
The Wilfs could take a moral stand, say they don’t condone child abuse and give Peterson a long suspension. This is not the same as the Ray Rice case, but one similarity is that we have enough evidence to reach a conclusion, regardless of what happens in the court system.
Out-of-town owners often involve themselves in football affairs when they feel like it, then sit back and evaluate other people for the result. Until this year, the Wilfs forced Spielman to work with a coach, Leslie Frazier, that he did not want. Now Spielman is in his third season as general manager and his ninth in the Vikings’ front office. He needs to win.
The Vikings’ executives can try to paint this as a simple matter of giving Peterson due process, but you can be sure that the internal conversations were much more extensive. They are operating in the middle of a storm, and that can make you lose sight of what matters.
Spielman evidently decided to side with Peterson, to play the “good intentions” card, and risk the fallout, which is already coming. Radisson suspended its sponsorship of the team, and don’t be surprised if others follow.
The Wilfs have not addressed the media to explain their decision. Spielman did, and it did not go well. This is a strange position for a general manager who has co-hosted an Adoption Family Fun Fest at the Vikings’ practice facility. For most of his adult life, Spielman has been both a passionate advocate for children and a career football guy. This week, he has to be one or another. He made his choice. That doesn’t mean it was the right one.