What’s going on with Adrian Peterson doesn’t involve a lot of which I know much about. I have no children and no experience raising them. I am at most a passive football fan, one who literally still doesn’t know whether a tight end plays offense or defense (although I’d venture a 50-50 guess) and I am a rather harsh critic of the highly-subsidized National Football League. I think it is a scam.
I guess I am trying to say that outside of a sense of fairness and justice — principles for which I do care a great deal — I don’t have much else vested in the Adrian Peterson story or any of the other “scandals” that have erupted recently. (Or any of the many, many others that happened over the years past but failed to erupt.)
However, I sense that the Adrian Peterson story is devolving. It seems to be less and less about the real issue — a child being abused and all of the twists and factors intersecting and relating to it — and more and more about everything on the periphery.
Of those things on the periphery I would count most obviously the National Football League. I also include the corporate sponsors (are they staying or leaving), the media (are they giving the matter a pass or covering it too much), and the fans (do they hold their heroes to the same standard as others).
Lost in all of this meta-discourse is the fact that thousands and thousands of children are abused every year in this country. Certainly, the Peterson story is bringing this into focus for many who might not otherwise have been aware of the realities of this abuse, especially as it is normalized in some parts of our society. However that focus is becoming blurred.
What do we really care about? And why?
There exists a level of outrage that borders on self-righteousness. Where you stand on this scandal is a social identifier, with more and more people joining the loud condemnation of Adrian Peterson and the NFL. (The result is the “reverse” or “back-peddling”.)
This is the process of mob rule and vigilante justice. Everyone gets worked up defining themselves as who they are by creating an other which they claim they are not. The more evil the wrongdoer, the more righteous the good who stand opposite him. And I think we are getting to this point with the Adrian Peterson case.
Increasingly lost in this is Adrian Peterson’s son…and the many thousands of others who have suffered this sort of abuse and much worse. Nonetheless we try to say our anger is all about the kids, but is it still? Do we really care about the abuse and its causes or do we care more about having the right opinion about these matters?
The story is devolving into one that serves a narrative that is about the National Football League, corporate sponsors, the media, politicians, social workers, clergy and parents until it ultimately has become a story about you and me and everybody! But with a specific shift in focus. Now it has begun to devolve into a story about whether we are appropriately outraged and sufficiently different from those other people who abuse.
There is no “other” who abuses. This isn’t a south versus north thing. It isn’t about race and class. The rights of privilege don’t matter either. In the end, the problem — abuse — exists in all walks of life and does so for many different reasons. It seems to me that the sad Adrian Peterson story has been detached from that fact.