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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, January 30, 2023
Jim Dayton

Column: Athlete crimes can expose chilling fan priorities

Your local child abuser and woman beater just got arrested the other day.

Afterward, did you wear their mug shots on your shirt in a show of support?

Probably not. But what if the criminal was the star running back of your favorite team or the stud in your fantasy football lineup? You might still throw on his jersey.

This comes with a great deal of hypocrisy. People are more willing to turn a blind eye to someone’s despicable behavior simply because of his status as a famous, talented athlete.

A handful of Ravens fans showed up to last Thursday’s game wearing Ray Rice jerseys despite the recent release of the elevator surveillance video showing Rice punching his then-fiancée in February. There were plenty of Adrian Peterson jerseys in the stands for Sunday’s Vikings game.

Last week, franchise icon Peterson was arrested on allegations of abusing his 4-year-old son. It’s the latest black mark for the NFL, a league that could not have a worse reputation right now in terms of off-field controversies.

Everybody knows the Rice story. But there’s also Greg Hardy sadistically beating and threatening his girlfriend in May and Ray McDonald hitting his pregnant fiancée in August.

Hardy and McDonald are lesser-known players whose arrests were sort of swept under the rug amid the Rice media frenzy. But Peterson is an all-time great running back still in the prime of his career. The investigation remains in the early stages, but this is a fiasco waiting to happen.

What’s outrageous is the impact of fantasy football on public opinion. Rice had terrible stats last season, so there were less people clamoring for his return. Peterson was possibly the first overall pick in your fantasy draft this year. It’s disgusting to think some fans would prefer the Vikings star, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game, to come back as soon as possible rather than let the legal process take its course, all because of a meaningless online hobby.

Plenty of people will contend that Peterson was simply disciplining his son and this excessiveness was isolated. And maybe it was—Peterson turned himself in and has fully cooperated with law enforcement so far, as did Rice.

But the most chilling part of the police report is when the child expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if he reported the incident to authorities. Such a statement would seem to indicate a history of both physical and psychological abuse.

Diehard fans who watch their favorite player across his entire career become emotionally attached. He transitions from random athlete to a main character in the narrative of sports nostalgia.

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But no matter how closely we follow a player, we don’t truly know what type of person he is. We’ll never know. That’s something reserved for the player’s family and friends.

And just like we’ll never know the full extent of a player’s character, we’ll never know all the context and details of these criminal situations. The innocent until proven guilty principle still exists. But amid all the question marks, can you really support a person who may potentially be a monster?

Until new information validates a second chance, keep your Peterson and Rice jerseys in your closets.

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