It’s been said over and over again — everything is forgiven when you win. In the NFL, no matter what you do—PED use, drug use, etc—people are willing to look past it if you win. They only care about the victories.
To some degree, this is aided by the passage of time. When a story breaks, there’s a ton of outrage, but we move on pretty quickly. There’s always another story, another event. We find ourselves forgetting the anger and forgetting the details, and we’re much quicker to shrug our shoulders and let it go. Just give us a few weeks, a few months.
Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but the general attitude seems to shift.
Case in point: The Minnesota Vikings, through chief operating officer Kevin Warren, said they’d be open to bringing Adrian Peterson back to the team and that they’d welcome him back happily. He also mentioned his goal of using Peterson to bring the Vikings to multiple Super Bowl victories. He added that, when Peterson is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he wants to go to the ceremony.
This is something Peterson’s teammates have been saying since early November, but it’s a bold statement for the organization, which refused to say anything about it back then. They wouldn’t even comment. Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, even went so far as to call Peterson a public embarrassment.
The lack of indictment from the team seems to indicate that, while holding their silence, they perhaps wanted him back all along. But there’s a big difference between wanting it and saying it.
The Vikings were reeling from the public backlash at the time, and they kept their collective mouths shut. But they must think that outrage has significantly died down if they’re willing to speak so strongly on Peterson’s behalf.
Has it? We’re going to have another chance to test this out.
Ray Rice just wrote a letter to Baltimore Ravens fans and the city as a whole. He said he had made a mistake, he knew people looked up to him and he hoped those people could learn from his actions. He thanked everyone for the support he got during his time in Baltimore.
Reports now show that he wants to get back into the league. This isn’t surprising, but it’s going to be very interesting to see how he’s viewed. The outrage when the video of him striking his girlfriend—now his wife—in an elevator was nearly unprecedented. Everyone was furious, to the point that the NFL scrambled around to give him a harsh punishment because people had seen the tape.
Will those people take him back now? Has enough time gone by that most casual fans are “over it,” or does that resentment and anger still linger?
We may never know. Personally, I’m not sure Rice will get another shot. He’s not young anymore, his best seasons are behind him and I doubt teams will want to have to deal with a potential firestorm for the level of ability that he brings. Older backs are pretty replaceable even when they don’t have any outside issues.
It will be interesting, though, to see if the passage of time has caused people to calm down enough that the original ire is forgotten.
The danger of letting that happen is that time alone means nothing. If you were angry when you saw the Rice video or the pictures of Peterson’s child when they first came out, you should still be exactly that angry now. The fact that a season has gone by and allowed people to forget and move on, does not change what happened in the slightest. If we allow time to change our perceptions, we run the risk of never fully holding people accountable for what they do.
This isn’t to say that there can never be second chances. People often relate these cases to criminal cases, where people go to jail for a few years, serve their debt to society and then get another shot. And while I understand that thinking, and I’m all for second chances if they are warranted, there’s one key difference:
We’re not talking about the loss of all freedoms. We’re talking about the privilege of playing a game for a living. Not being allowed to play for a year is not the same as going to jail. Almost everyone in the United States isn’t allowed to play football, myself included, because they’re not good enough. Let’s not confuse that with a real punishment.
Though, in the end, it’s not about punishing people endlessly for one mistake or denying them a second chance. Each case must be evaluated on its own, and the steps that the players take to apologize and make up for their actions have to be considered. But it is about ensuring that the NFL does not develop a culture in which this type of violence is accepted, and it’s about making sure that we, as fans, do not let merely the passage of a few months change the way that we view these transgressions.