Why Adrian Peterson Should Not Be Allowed to Play Again This Year

As spelled out in Adrian Peterson's plea deal, which was accepted by a Texas judge on Tuesday, there will be no reference in his record to family violence or violence against a minor.

Essentially, it never happened. Not officially.

Instead, the Vikings star, who admitted to beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch last May, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault and was placed on probation, fined $4,000 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. The judge deferred a finding of guilt for two years.

He could be back on the field a week from Sunday.

We know what happens after that. The focus goes back to football, and if Peterson plays as expected, he becomes a hero, maybe even a martyr to the sort of people who held up adoring signs outside the courthouse Tuesday.

Now, one refrain goes like this: Peterson has already been punished (by missing eight games after being placed on the commissioner's exempt list, though he still received his salary). In other words, it's over. Let the man get back to business.

The issue has already sparked useful national debate on the sort of punishment Peterson doled out to his child, which caused bruises and bleeding evident in photographs taken by the boy's doctor.

Of course, it's hard not to wonder what would have happened if, instead of still photographs of his son's broken skin, there was video of him beating his child, as in the Ray Rice case. While the courts may have arrived at the same decision, you have to guess the court of public opinion would have come down much harder on him, making it very difficult for the Vikings to put him back on the field this soon.

Like any other player guilty of a misdemeanor, the NFL Players Association will say Peterson should be allowed to play this season; that any further penalty would be double jeopardy. And any decision by the commissioner based on moral standards would likely cede to the union's stance first.

Peterson's continued absence from football -- if not imposed by the commissioner, then by the Vikings -- would speak louder and clearer than anything. However the decision was ultimately determined, it would come across that regardless of the positive impact Peterson's return could have on the team, what he did to that little boy was wrong and that having him wear its uniform this season would only be condoning it.

Peterson took the first positive step outside the courtroom Tuesday by saying, "I truly regret this incident. By standing here, I take full responsibility for my actions."

But it's only a first step.

Initially, Peterson's lawyer Rusty Hardin said his client was only administering "the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

That didn't sound like a man who was necessarily going to change his feelings or his ways. But rather, in Hardin's words, "he never intended to harm his son."

In addition to the public service announcements Peterson will make, he'll have to fix the impression that he can't veer from how he was raised. He will have to speak out whenever he gets the chance. Tell us sincerely how he feels, what he has learned and if he still feels corporal punishment of this kind is acceptable.

Though court records will not reflect the abuse he inflicted on his child, Peterson will have to embrace it and, more than that, try to change the opinions and action of those adults who, like him, claim to not know any better than to repeat the sins of their parents.

"Two things made me feel better about this," said Teresa Huizar, executive director for the National Children's Alliance. "(Peterson) didn't say someone else did it or make up some crazy story to explain how it happened. He said from the beginning, 'I did this,' and taking responsibility is a good first step in breaking the cycle of abuse."

Huizar said while she was disappointed the NFL missed the opportunity to address child abuse while they were working on domestic abuse initiatives, they can make up for it now. And Peterson can take a leadership role. "For him to stand up and say, 'I did something wrong. It can happen to any family, but there are resources available and you can learn to do better. I'm learning to do better.' That can be so incredibly powerful," Huizar said. "The key question is whether he will or whether he hopes this all goes away."

If this form of abuse has been revealed as America's dirty little secret, then who better than someone who has been exposed to make a real impact?

Only then, in addition to never striking his own children again, will Peterson truly have made amends.