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.
It was good to see all of the Twitter comments from folks who supported Peterson, but there were some who questioned why he would play football just two days after his son died.
In fact, Phil Mushnick, a columnist with The New York Post, said Peterson is improperly mourning his dead son.
“The suspect in the beating murder of Peterson’s 2-year-old is the boyfriend of Peterson’s “baby mama” — now the casual, flippant, detestable and common buzz-phrase for absentee, wham-bam fatherhood,” … Mushnick wrote.
“Money can’t buy love,” he wrote, “but having signed a $96 million deal, he could not have provided his child — apparently his second from a “baby mama” — a safe home?”
This assumption is ridiculous and Mushnick didn’t bother to do his homework. Mushnick’s assertions also fall into a predicable mentality: Vilifying a black male athlete because it’s easy. Mushnick is long on stereotypes and short on facts.
How could Peterson have known to provide a safe home for the boy when he didn’t even know the child existed?
Peterson reportedly only recently learned he was the father of the child and met him for the first time last week while the boy was on life support, TMZ reports.
The child did not carry Peterson’s name, according to published reports and The Daily News says that Peterson, who is not married, has another son about the same age named Adrian Peterson Jr., and a daughter, Adeja, with a different woman – children Peterson is providing for.
Peterson has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy in life and was forced to handle serious setbacks even as a youngster.
When he was 7, Peterson watched his older brother die in a bike accident when he was hit by a drunken driver. Growing up poor in east Texas, Peterson’s father was sent to prison for drug dealing and during Peterson’s teenage years, Peterson’s half-brother was shot and killed.
So throughout his life, Peterson has turned to football to help ease emotional tension and relieve stress. He didn’t have a father in his life to counsel him about how to deal with emotional distress so he did what came natural.
“He’s a wonderful human being,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who coached Peterson in college, told reporters. “He’s a very faithful, strong, Christian guy that we all dearly, we all love him. We’re all there for him. Incredibly tragic event. He’s a great a kid, a great man, a great kid when I had him.”
Next week, Peterson will strap on his shoulder pads, lace up his cleats, and face-off against the New York Giants, who are 0-6. Peterson should have good day on the field as he attempts, perhaps, to put the pain of his dead son behind him by looking forward – toward the end zone.