Patriots

There Was a Time When Patriots Might Have Taken a Chance on Adrian Peterson — but Not Now

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A prediction doubling as a wish: Adrian Peterson doesn’t play this Sunday, or for many Sundays to come.

The tipping point for the career of the Minnesota Vikings running back and switch-wielding monster arrived Monday afternoon.

It wasn’t when the Vikings, led by cowering-behind-the-curtain owner Zygi Wilf, shamefully reinstated their star player even as more details came to light about his alleged abusive treatment of his various and scattered children.

It was when general manager Rick Speilman — the father of three adopted children and one you’d suspect would have a strong grip on the responsibility of parenthood and all of its joys and fulfillments — was propped up behind a microphone to explain Peterson’s return for those too cowardly to tell the truth: losing football games means losing money, and we cannot have that.

Which made for a great irony. It wasn’t what Spielman said into the microphone, but what was behind him when he spoke, that may lead to the Vikings retroactively doing the right thing and pulling Peterson from the field.

It turns out the hotel chain Radisson didn’t like seeing its brand splattered all over the shameful press conference, most visibly on the purple backdrop behind Speilman.

So the company spoke to the NFL with the type of blunt message that always gets heard, even by the owner hunkered down in his locked office with the phone presumably turned off, or the commissioner hiding in his Manhattan ivory tower while underlings constantly update him on which way the wind is blowing.

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Radisson suspended its sponsorship agreement with the Vikings. That — the loss of tangible cash — is what it will really take to get the NFL to act against its violent and socially maladjusted employees.

There are strong clues that Adrian Peterson will not play Sunday despite the Vikings’ vague support. Governor Mark Dayton spoke out against Peterson’s reinstatement today, even though he felt the need to reiterate that he remains a Vikings fan.

And lo and behold, the pressure of lost revenue is only mounting: Nike is refusing to sell Peterson jerseys. Anheuser-Busch issued a strongly worded statement scolding the NFL for its “handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” When even the beer guys are taking the moral high ground against a league in which their product is intertwined — and are justified in doing so — that’s a telling sign something had better change.

And as I write this, there are 119 hours until Sunday’s Vikings-Saints matchup in New Orleans. That’s a lot of time — a lot of time — for new allegations against Peterson to surface. If you think he was cruelly brandishing his switch and exerting his evil will on just one of his — what is the last count, seven? — children, you’re either stupidly naive, in denial, or a Vikings fan with an utterly warped perspective on the world.

One terrified, welt-covered child is one too many. Yet it’s easy to suspect that is a common, brutal bond in Peterson’s widely extended family.

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There’s another sea of change in progress here beyond the financial implication, one subtler and probably necessary: It’s becoming harder for men like Peterson to find a second chance without being accountable for literally abusing their first.

It was just a day or so ago that rumors surfaced that the Vikings would try to deal Peterson rather than suspending or cutting him. We immediately thought of the Raiders, but they’re not so much a destination for talented miscreants now as they are an irrelevant home for the washed-up and terminally mediocre.

The Cowboys, fighting on-field irrelevance themselves, also made sense. Don Van Natta Jr.’s rich recent profile of Jerry Jones included an anecdote in which Peterson essentially self-tampered, calling the Dallas owner to tell him he would like to play there.

(I don’t even want to consider the possibility that there is an element of Vikings fans more angry about that than his treatment of his son.)

The prospect of Minnesota trading one of the greatest running backs in league history — presumably before the depths of his cruelty are known — was intriguing, at least inasmuch as we can digest the football element of this terrible story. But trading him now is a hypothetical that probably isn’t happening. He’s become more toxic than he is talented.

Still, I’m curious: Would you take him on the Patriots, knowing what we know now?

I suspect the consensus answer is something along the lines of no #*$*@ way. Hell, maybe that’s the mild way of putting it. But I do wonder whether Tom Brady, who casually shrugged off the power of his stature and words during his weekly Dennis and Callahan interview Monday, would take him.

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The Patriots have brought in their share of miscreants — usually at good value — along the way, most notably fourth-round steal-turned-accused murderer Aaron Hernandez.

Corey Dillon was accused of domestic violence before and after his three-year career here. Given how brilliantly he performed in 2004, the last time the franchise won a Super Bowl, I don’t think there were any regrets about giving up a second-round pick for his services.

I’m not suggesting the Patriots dismiss rap sheets any more than the other 31 teams in the league. I believe character is higher on their checklist of preferred attributes in a player than it is for the vast majority of franchises. But what has happened with Adrian Peterson this week — he has rightly gone from one of the most coveted, respected players in the league to pure poison — has changed the parameters of what we will tolerate. To a similar degree, the same applies to Ray Rice and Greg Hardy.

Being a fine player is no longer enough to convince us to cheer for you, to spend our money to watch you and the franchise you represent. The right to play in the league must be earned to some degree by humane behavior away from the field.

No, Patriots fans wouldn’t take Adrian Peterson. No #*#*#* way, right?

Now tell me this: When did the answer really become no?

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