For this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story, I made four trips from October to December to see Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. He sat for five interviews—four in Minnesota, and one in Oakland, after the Vikings beat the Raiders.
The story, online here, created an immediate and intense reaction. The majority of people I heard from felt like Peterson hadn’t explained himself that well, hadn’t shown enough remorse, hadn’t changed. Because we had so many interviews, and because he spoke about so many different topics—the deaths of two brothers, the death of a son he didn’t know, his father’s incarceration, his child-abuse case to which he plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault last November—what follows is even more words from Peterson and words from those who know him best that I gathered in those interviews. I tried to address as many of the questions that I received as possible with what's included here.
Peterson, Nov. 15, after the Vikings beat the Raiders and someone asked him if he thought O.J. Simpson committed murder: I try not to judge people.
Peterson, Nov. 15, on if wins like the Vikings victory over the Raiders were the reason he came back to Minnesota:
Peterson, Nov. 19, on what “Super Saiyan” means: It’s not something I’m really into, but my oldest brother, he’s kind of a geek. He used to watch Dragon Ball Z all the time. It’s like a cartoon for adults. The Super Saiyan level is when their power just goes to a different level. And they’re pretty much unbeatable. I think I’m transitioning to that phase.
Peterson, Nov. 19, on his return to football last June: Yeah, I understood where [the Vikings] were coming from [in wanting him to return]. But the most important part for me was just kind of being able to sweep things under the rug and seeing certain people for who they were and accepting that and moving forward. But most importantly getting back to the guys that I’ve been around for 9 years.
Peterson, Nov. 19, on how he can say he did something wrong in disciplining his child but at the same time say that it’s not abuse: Because that’s how I see the situation. I’ve been praying on it.
I’m not talking about this
Peterson, Nov. 19, on how he said the world “hated me” in a previous interview: Just the whole situation. It wasn’t more so about, oh, everyone hates you, or this is the way people look at you. It was more so just the perception that I feel like the media was putting out there about me. Without even knowing me. So that’s what I was really holding onto.
Peterson, Nov. 19, on how some fans seem more forgiving after he became the NFL’s rushing leader: I keep things in perspective. I don’t get caught up in the hype, because now that I’m leading the league in rushing, it’s like, no, that old back, he can still do it! But it was so far from that not many weeks ago. I sit back, look at that and say, wow, I can’t pay these people no mind. Because they’ll pat you on your back when you’re doing good, and when you’re down and out, they’ll make sure they stomp you.
Nelson Peterson, Adrian’s father
Nelson Peterson, Nov. 19, on how the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé in a hotel elevator impacted how the league reacted to Adrian’s case: The 15 games [suspension] was something Roger Goodell was doing just to please the people. When you look at the overall picture, Adrian didn’t make the rules. I felt like the NFL knew they were wrong on how they handled Adrian’s situation. Trying to please the women’s organizations and different support groups. Take a stand. Show that we don’t condone this or whatever.
Even going through the process, the NFL knew it was going to lose. But they [dragged] their feet and put Adrian through all these loopholes. By the time he jumped through all the loopholes, the season was overwith. They accomplished what they wanted accomplished.
Nelson Peterson, Nov. 19, on why the family hadn’t publicly addressed the case often: Because people draw their own conclusions, and no matter how you try to explain anything to them, it’s going to seem like you’re defending yourself. Before you know it, you’re not taking responsibility for your actions. From the beginning, he always said he was sorry. He didn’t mean to do that.
Nelson Peterson, Nov. 19, on Adrian’s relationship with his son from the abuse case: I see their bond, and it’s really emotional for me to see this, to see how their relationship is. They’ve gotten closer. People are going to say this and say that. At the end of the day, my grandson loves him just as much as he did before the incident happened.
Kirby Wilson, Vikings running backs coach
Wilson, Nov. 20, on how Peterson looked when he first came back: I mean, he was still phenomenal, but he wasn’t where he was when he left, and you could see that. He knew that. And he talked about it. Not a lot, but every now and then he would mention that it was a work in progress and that he was feeling his way through it and that he was trying not to be cautious, but he was.
Wilson, Nov. 20, on how he knew Peterson would be fine: He has an inner strength and an inner drive about him that you see it in his eyes. I’ve been around him long enough now, and I notice that look from time to time. When I see it, I back away. Because he’s got that feel to him, and when great players have that look, you leave them alone.
Vikings K Blair Walsh
Walsh, Nov. 20, on Peterson encouraging him after a rough start: I remember I was in the locker room, and I was one of the only guys in here. He just kind of came up to me. He’s always been very … he’s an inspirational type. And he just came up, and he reminded me that I had been an All Pro, and I’ve reached a certain height in this league that I could easily bounce back from what I was dealing with. He told me I had greatness in my eyes. I didn’t know what that meant at first.
Kenneth Abrams, Peterson’s godfather
Abrams, Nov. 25, on Cris Carter’s criticism of his godson: That made us look back at his speech. He was all, Momma, we made it. Then when this happened, Momma, we wrong. Let me tell you something. We come from the south. Not even God could make me turn against my Momma. I would never throw my mother up under the bus. Especially on national TV.
Ashley Peterson, Adrian’s wife
Ashley Peterson, Nov. 25, on the Internet criticism of her husband: I think it would be different if he was callous. If he said, I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s not his attitude. He’s apologetic. And it’s almost like, what more do you want? This is a private family situation that was made public illegally. It’s our lives that we are really dealing with. People just don’t care. They’re behind computers, with nothing to do, and they have a lot to say. They don’t even know us. They have no idea the type of people that we are, the type of person he is, the type of father he is.
Peterson, Dec. 1, when asked about why he seemed upset after the Packers beat the Vikings, 30–13, on Nov. 22: [Sighs] I get mad just talking about it. We’re supposed to be sitting here, 9–2. I’ll keep that built up for later, until we see them again. (The Vikings beat the Packers, 20–13, in Week 17.)
Peterson, Dec. 1, on Johnny Manziel’s’s suspension by the Cleveland Browns: I get it. The quarterback has to be the guy who doesn’t do anything like that. You can’t do anything in public anymore. There’s always a camera.
Peterson, Dec. 1, on telling his son, Adrian Jr., that he might not play for the Vikings in 2015:Jr., that he might not play for the Vikings in 2015: Last year, when everything was going down, I asked him, what if I played for Dallas, for the Cowboys? Vikings, he said. What about if I played for the Texans, by our house? Vikings, he said. He loves the Vikings. He’ll grab the media guides, and he’ll be like, Dad, is that Mike Wallace? He’s the fastest player on the team. I’m like, no he’s not the fastest. Your daddy is.
Vikings LB Chad Greenway
Greenway, Dec. 2, on whether he feels the need to defend Peterson to outsiders: I try to stay in my lane when it comes to that kind of stuff. Obviously I have my own wife and family, and I just don’t have much of an opinion on it, to be honest with you. I know him most as a teammate and obviously a friendship that arrived within this building and on the football field. What he does in his personal life is his business.
Greenway, Dec. 2, on if Peterson can play 10 more seasons: I think he’s full of s---. But if anybody can do it, it would be him, especially at that position. He’s such a physical specimen; it’s hard to bet against him. But 10 years is a little bit extreme. But let him try.
Coach Mike Zimmer
Zimmer, Dec. 2, on what separates Peterson as a runner: Well, he’s got all the skills—the speed and acceleration and the vision. What makes him unique is his physicality that he runs with. I’ve always said he’s a violent runner, and he is. He’ll look for contact.
Peterson, Dec. 2, on his brother, Brian, being killed by a drunk driver at nine years old and how that shaped him: That situation ... it was just, the process of losing my brother, then that process of just having to grow and kind of be the backbone for my mom, because my mom, she cried every night. And, you know, keep my tears to myself until I got off to myself. But I think back now, just like that has helped me get through so much. Because it’s not much you can compare to losing a loved one.
Peterson, Dec. 2, on what changes he has made since his he missed most of the 2014 season:
Peterson, Dec. 2, on how much of that is getting older, and how much is learning from his own mistakes: I would just say life experiences.
Peterson, Dec. 2, on those who say he should never be forgiven: They don’t have the same faith that I have. I always say put your trust in God, not in man. Because man will let you down. And those are the ones that say, oh, he’s not going to do this, he’s not going to do that. But if they would listen to the words that came out of my mouth, and they were understanding that you know I feel like in my heart that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Peterson, Dec. 2, on whether he cares if he wins the Comeback Player of the Year award, or the debate over whether his court case counts as something to come back from: I don’t really care, to be honest. I’d rather win MVP.
Peterson, Dec. 2, not in a direct response to any specific question: If I wanted to, I could have been a lawyer.
Peterson, Dec. 2, on whether he thinks that his court case will always in some ways define him: It does, because we’re human. But then again, I find satisfaction in knowing the people that actually know me as a person and know my heart and that see me around my kid, they know that to be totally false. And I understand that the world that we live in, people are so quick to make a judge, to be judgmental based off what they see or what they hear. I’m totally different than that. For example, with the Ray Rice situation, before the video came out, I was like, I don’t know what happened. I’m not going to just sit here and say this is what happened, this is what he did to her. Now when the video came out that was just kind of obvious. Because there was video, there was footage. But I still didn’t judge him. People in this world aren’t like that. People aren’t forgiving. People are so judgmental.