You have a huge responsibility as an NFL player. You have a responsibility to yourself to take advantage of a great opportunity to give yourself a head start in life. You have a responsibility to family, friends, and fans who look up to you to be a good example and role model. You have a responsibility to the NFL to conduct yourself in a manner that always presents the league well.
Imagine this, you are a 20-23 year old male. You are a physical specimen. Faster, stronger, and (in many cases) worshiped you since you were a kid for your athletic prowess. Then, you have a financial windfall that often instantly makes you the person financially responsible for your family. It also enables you to have life’s greatest vices at your disposal on a daily basis. That is a lot to deal with for any man, let alone a very young man. While people are constantly telling you to “make good decisions”, every bad decision is at your fingertips and without education you may not know the difference. Forty year old men make bad decisions with financial windfalls, so how can a boy be taught to consistently make good decisions. What types of bad decisions did you make in your 20’s?
If the NFL is concerned about its players (and the investment that they are making into their players), it needs to dedicate some of its extensive resources to take responsibility to educate the VERY young men entering this league so that they grow into great men. This starts with mandatory, ongoing classes that extend and expand the Rookie Symposium throughout the season. Specifically, these classes should educate the players on parenting, legal issues, domestic violence, interpersonal relationships, communication & conflict resolution, and substance abuse. Some of these issues were covered in the Rookie Symposium when I attended yet, but not to the extent necessary to inspire change. I’ve seen many players punished and teams lose valuable players because of decisions in these areas. There is a one or two hour “seminar” once or twice a year that focuses on, “Choices, Decisions, Consequences” and it is simply not enough… OBVIOUSLY. While the intention of the seminar is great, it falls well short of the constant reinforcement necessary to make major breakthroughs that are sustainable.
Handing out long suspensions to players treats the symptom but does not address the real issues that are causing the problem. This does not mean that we excuse bad behavior. It means that giving players long suspensions cannot be the only recourse to resolving the problem. As players, many times our talent takes us places we are not mentally and emotionally prepared for. Many players come from socio-economically disadvantaged situations with no real financial education. Others were raised in unstable home environments without positive male figures in the home.
Don’t get me wrong… Adrian Peterson took things entirely too far with the discipline for his son. While his son may have required discipline, Adrian needed better tools and different options to offer that discipline. Long after his NFL career is over, he will still be a father and a long suspension from the NFL will have done NOTHING to educate him in these areas. I think that part has gotten lost in this whole saga. Peterson has stated that was raised with harsh discipline and an iron fist as many of us were. From his perspective, he probably believes that is what enabled him to become successful and the football player we all love. I’m sure Adrian Peterson loves his son just as all fathers do. He just did what he knew. I think he just needs more options.
The NFL ruling that came down was expected but it's not the ruling from the arbitrator from the hearing on Monday. I believe that the letter was a PR move designed to protect the league but it is not the most effective method to making a real change. As a father myself, I know that harsh punishments may serve as a deterrent that don’t address the root of the behavior. If NFL players are going to be punished on the field for the decisions and behavior that they do OFF the field, then let’s set them up for success and provide them with the education, resources, and tools necessary to do this. Players need to be coached to be great players on the field. If the league wants these players to be great men off the field, they need to provide coaching in this area as well. If they can be coached to be great on the field, I know they can be coached to be great off the field.