COMMENTARY: How Black Men Cope: Was Peterson Right to Play After Losing Son?

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  • Adrian Peterson manages his emotional pain the only way he can: by playing football.

    “I don’t ask people to understand my mindset and how I think,” Peterson said, explaining why he decided to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers just two days after his 2-year-old son died.

    “Anything that’s bad, I try to take good from it,” said Peterson, the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings. “That’s the way I approach life in all situations. I never thought about not playing. It was all about just going out there and having the strength to play and having the strength to get through and help my team. That was my focus.”

    Peterson is grieving the loss of a child.

    One of Peterson’s sons, a victim of alleged child abuse, died last Friday of severe head injuries suffered after he was attacked. The man charged in the case, Joseph Patterson, was home alone with the 2-year-old boy and called 911 to report he was choking, according to police. Patterson was the boyfriend of the child’s mother.

    For a black man, Peterson’s decision to play football as part of his grieving process is understandable. Black men, generally, don’t stretch out on the couch with therapists when they are suffering emotionally.

    This is not to say that therapy is bad. It isn’t. I believe there are therapists who can actually help many black men in despair. But more black men, for better or worse, find their own personal methods for coping with tragedy and pain.

    Most black men often rely on something to deal with emotional setbacks: Work, sports, hanging with other brothers- and yes, some turn to alcohol and drugs.

    I’ve seen many black men – and black fathers — use sports as a temporary escape. For many black men, like Peterson, sports serves as a mental get-away from the stress of family problems, financial issues, and break-downs in relationships.

    Some black men watch sports on television, while others spend weekends on the hardwood court playing basketball to help sort through problems.

    And sometimes it actually works.

    Playing basketball seems to work for President Barack Obama, who says shooting hoops helps him relieve stress, keeps him in shape, — and healthy. And like Obama, Peterson also turns to sports for emotional relief.

    And it makes sense to me.

    “I’m able to kind of release a lot of my stress through this sport, so that’s what I plan on doing,” Peterson said before the game.

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