MINNEAPOLIS -- So what's next for Adrian Peterson? Will we see him in purple and gold -- or some other colors -- next year, toting a football in his pursuit of a Lombardi trophy? Or will he be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, donning red, white and blue in a bid for an Olympic medal?
Peterson has talked before about his desire to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, and he might just be able to pull it off. He has said his personal bests in the 200- and 400-meter dashes are 21.23 seconds and 47.6 seconds, respectively, and while he'd have to shave significant time to reach the U.S. Olympic Trials (automatic qualifying standards in 2012 were 20.55 in the 200 and 45.3 in the 400), Peterson's belief in himself and his capacity for hard work are just as indomitable as his physique.
But his comments on Friday night about possibly retiring from football and pursuing an Olympic bid were, as much as anything, a window into the psyche of a man who has been affected so deeply by the events of the past few months that he has considered giving up the thing that first made him famous, and then made him notorious.
Peterson believed if he cooperated with an investigation into child abuse allegations in Texas, if he let the grand jurors look him in the eye and hear his voice when he told them he didn't intend to injure his 4-year-old son while disciplining him, his name would be cleared. On Sept. 4, it looked like he would be correct; the grand jury informed Peterson it would not pursue charges against him. When NFL executive president Troy Vincent flew to Peterson's home outside Houston in early November, and according to Peterson, told the running back he would be back on the field in two weeks if he agreed to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Peterson trusted what he'd heard.
His hunches eventually backfired: The grand jury chose to indict Peterson on Sept. 11, and the NFL suspended Peterson for the rest of the season after he acted on the advice of NFLPA attorneys and canceled his meeting with Goodell over concerns about its nature and scope. But they reveal something important to understanding Peterson: He puts a premium on what he can see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears. He prizes loyalty, and takes people at their word, perhaps to a fault. It was clear Friday evening how hurt he'd been by a process that, in his view, turned on a pair of in-person meetings that proved not to be worth their face value. Naive or not, it's why Peterson is so unsure he can trust what comes next in his reinstatement process.
He also made it clear he was stung by the portrayal he received, from the media and public figures, during the past few months. Peterson went from being the most popular athlete in Minnesota and a nationally recognized superstar to a pariah. He said allegations that he put leaves in his son's mouth and that the boy had defensive wounds on his hands were false. He bristled at the idea he hasn't shown remorse for his actions. He said he has already heard from several millionaires who would support him in a charity to fight child abuse, and said one of the attractive things about continuing his career was the platform it would afford him to speak out.
"I feel like, either way, I’m able to reach out and touch people, but of course, if I’m playing football, and I’m back to breaking records -- this, that and the other -- it’ll definitely be a lot more," Peterson said. "It’s all about changing lives and bringing awareness."
Will Peterson be in the NFL next year? I believe that's more likely than not, though it remains to be seen what effect a lawsuit (or his unease about the NFL's reinstatement process) would have on that possibility. Peterson hasn't fought for reinstatement this long just to walk away. It's clear his passion for the game still burns deep within him.
But Peterson believes he was let down by systems he thought he could trust. His enthusiasm for football is as unbridled as any player's you'll find, but as he talked on Friday, he sounded jaded. That's not something I've ever heard in his voice before, and as wrong as his actions might have been, he deserves a chance to show he's changed.
If he's not sure he can trust the mechanisms to bring about that chance, a sport governed by something as simple as a stopwatch might sound appealing.