What is the right way to deal with grief? As I write this, about seven hours from kickoff, Adrian Peterson is expected to play today against the Panthers, after what must have been a horrible couple of days for him. Not all of the details have emerged at this time, but we all know most of the story. Adrian’s son was allegedly beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, taken to the hospital, and after hours of being in critical condition, finally passed away. The nature of Adrian’s relationship with his son is irrelevant. There’s nothing new to offer in terms of news about exactly what happened, but there is plenty to talk about in terms of the reaction by a vocal group of the fanbase on AP’s decision to play.
Apparently he should be grieving or something. I don’t have children, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have never lost someone close to me. I can only imagine what it’s like. Even in imagining, I just can’t truly comprehend the way it feels. Nobody really can unless they’ve been there. We can all empathize, and think about how we might feel in a situation, but as anyone who has ever had to deal with such an incredible loss can tell you, you just can’t possibly know how much it hurts until you actually experience it.
So again, I’ll ask: What is the right way to deal with grief? If you’d just lost a family member, would you go out and play a game? Personally, I’m pretty sure I’d just curl up into a ball and cry all day, but I really don’t know. Which is the ultimate point. I just don’t know. And neither do you. Everyone deals with things differently, and if going out on Sunday with his teammates brings him some sort of solace, then it’s not my place to tell him he’s wrong, nor is it anyone else’s.
Peterson is no stranger to tragedy, as every news report about his son has made abundantly clear. He watched his brother die when he was a kid, and he watched his father go off to prison as a teenager. Those are two things that the vast majority of us have never had to deal with. According to Peterson, during those tough times, he fell back on football. If football has always been a way for him to deal with stress and pain, then he should have every right to go out and play, and to not be judged for doing so.
Adrian will be on the field later today, probably with a heavy heart, but he’s going to be there, with his teammates, doing what he does. For three hours he won’t have to think about grief or loss or pain, he can focus on playing football, and I’m certainly not one to begrudge him of that. I understand the sentiment, I really do. It can seem callous, like his priorities are all out of whack, the fact that he would rather go play football than go through the grieving process in the way that we’d all expect him to. I’ll reiterate again, we can’t possibly know how he feels, or what he’s going through, and most importantly, everyone handles grief in a different way. Adrian’s way is football.
One last note for all of the people who are commenting on the fact that he cracked a smile or two in the press conference when he was first being asked about his son’s injuries. It was talked about more than it should have been, “he just lost a son, why is he smiling?” I could write a lot about how smiling doesn’t always mean you’re happy, and that body language is not a direct corollary to how someone is actually feeling, but we’re all smart, we should know that. I don’t know how I would look if I just lost someone, and it doesn’t matter anyway. He’s grieving, and it’s nobody else’s business what he does or what he looks like during that process.
Anyone who’s still upset about Peterson’s decisions or demeanor over the past few days, you’re just getting upset about something that shouldn’t be upsetting. Let’s keep things in perspective: A child is dead, at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, and there’s an entire family who is going through one of the toughest things that any family can go through. If you’re going to express your opinion on the internet, take a second and think it through. Maybe you shouldn’t be attacking a father who’s just lost his son for acting in a way that you don’t think he should act. Maybe you should save that outrage for the guy who murdered a two year old boy.