Adrian Peterson: Mike Zimmer’s Conundrum


Adrian Peterson was probably the player Mike Zimmer was most excited to coach. I wonder if he still feels the same way. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Zimmer took the head coaching job in Minnesota he probably saw three things: opportunity, youth, and Adrian Peterson.  Two of those things continue to be positives for the newly minted head coach while the third is assumedly causing him sleepless nights.  It’s a difficult position for Zimmer to be in.  As Bengal fans, we know the family struggle Zimmer went through with the unfortunate and untimely passing of his wife in 2009.  He’s a father of two daughters and a good family man, so I can only imagine how Adrian Peterson’s situation is weighing on him.  But beyond this, Zimmer is also faced with an unenviable task: finding an answer to a situation which has no precedent and frankly, one where the law is not well defined.  Whether Zimmer wants to answer questions or not (he deferred to the team’s upper management during a press conference yesterday), the Vikings’ actions do reflect on him as he is a part of the organization.

Currently, child rearing can often involve some type of physical discipline and a surprising amount of parents use some type of object to physically discipline their child.  Here’s an excerpt from an NPR interview that took place yesterday.

"SIEGEL: Are you using spanking to mean also using a switch, as was used in this case, or a paddle or a belt or something like that?GERSHOFF: Most of the time, we’re talking about hitting a child on the behind with an open hand. That’s what most Americans think of as spanking. But there are regional differences in that. And between 10 and 20 percent of Americans still use some kind of object to hit a child. So what Adrian Peterson did is actually not that uncommon."

Elizabeth Gershoff is a professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin.  Her and host, Robert Siegel, are discussing the history of corporal punishment.  The interview mentions that three-quarters of parents “spank” their children around once a year while it is legal in 19 states for schools to use physical discipline on students.  This is all evidence that the concept of physical discipline is not a well defined one in American law.  In fact, it seems so obscure that it’s really hard to decipher what the correct course of action should be from an organizational standpoint; it seems unclear how the law would rule in cases such as this one.

With all this in mind, the Vikings, and hence Zimmer, have to try and decipher what the best course of action is in the meantime.  This situation comes at a time where the public eye is closely watching the NFL due to the domestic violence cases involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Ray McDonald.  But the country’s view of domestic violence is entirely different than is its view on utilizing physical discipline when raising a child.  So, should the Vikings sit Peterson until his case is resolved?  Is it even really just to sit him down when so many other parents utilize this type of intervention on their children and when the country’s law includes little specificity regarding physical discipline on a nationwide basis?

To be clear, I do not support the utilization of physical discipline on children.  My professional background is in child psychiatry and I’ve seen the effect of abuse on children.

Jun 17, 2014; Eden Prairie, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) talks with a reporter after practice at Winter Park. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not necessarily saying Peterson was intentionally abusing his child, but I do believe raising children outside of this type of discipline is the correct.  But my personal feelings have little to do with the situation at hand for the Vikings and Zimmer.

The Vikings could make a public statement regarding child rearing.  They could push the issue and use their public standing to effect social change.  But the question must also be asked if this is really their responsibility.  The Vikings are a brand and company. Their goal is to make money and provide a service to the public like every other business.  Zimmer’s job is to coach this team to its fullest potential, which furthers his career potential.  With no clear cut nationwide consensus, nor any clear cut law on this topic, it’s a difficult situation for the Vikings and Zimmer.

I hope Zimmer uses his organizational standing, albeit a limited one, to encourage the team to use its public standing outside of football in this case.  I hope he tells them that Peterson needs to take some time to educate himself on child rearing, which will enable him to be a better parent.  I don’t think Peterson should be dealt an excessive amount of punishment, but I do think having him “inactive” for only a day or two is entirely not enough time to resolve this situation in the correct fashion.

All of the involved parties in Peterson’s situation should use their standing to create positive change even understanding that its not technically their job.  But frankly, in situations like this, when is it anyone’s job other than lawmakers.  Someone has to stand up and make a statement when these issues present themselves and the Vikings are currently in that position.  I believe the public would only benefit from such choices and would respect the organization for doing so.  I believe even Peterson could stand to improve child rearing in this country by making parents around the country aware that educating themselves on child rearing doesn’t have to be a bad thing nor does it have to mean that you’re inept as a parent.  I believe taking a time out from football and looking at this from a social standpoint would only better everyone.  It would improve fan’s opinion of the organization and all those associated with it, it would improve Peterson as a man and football player, and frankly could improve the business goals of the organization; what fan wouldn’t respect them for taking a stand?

I loved Zimmer when he was in Cincinnati.  I respect him as a coach and I’m sure this situation isn’t what he expected two games into his head coaching tenure.  But nonetheless, he and the Vikings are inevitably involved in this situation now.  I hope they choose yo look beyond football and see the bigger picture.