My fantasy football team has a problem and it’s names are Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice.1
The draft for this team’s league was held on August 31st, five days before the NFL’s opening Thursday night game and a week before the opening weekend. At that point, Ray Rice, the starting running back for the Baltimore Ravens, had been suspended for the first two games of the season. The NFL was being skewered in many circles for its lax response to Rice’s acts of violence towards his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino elevator but they had not yet changed their stance.2 Adrian Peterson, the starting running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was regarded fairly highly for his character and professionalism and had never been implicated in any negative off-the-field incidents. The fantasy industry considered Peterson to be one of the first three overall picks because of his talent and his role in the Vikings’ offense. Rice was recommended to be drafted in the later rounds because he was only going to miss two games and would still be beneficial to fantasy teams after that.
I drafted Peterson with the fourth overall pick and picked up Rice in the 8th round with the 77th pick.
Let me say, right off the bat, that I did not feel good about drafting Ray Rice. The way I justified it to myself was that because of the other people I’d drafted at running back, I would never have to play him. He was merely an insurance policy and if I was forced to depend on him, I was probably going to lose anyway. When the NFL suspended him indefinitely, I was more than happy to cut him from my team and pick up another player instead. One problem had been solved.
Peterson was pretty good in the first game of the season. He earned me 35 points (third highest on my team) and helped me to a comfortable win over my week one opponent. He did just what one would expect from their first round draft pick.
The news about Peterson’s indictment by a grand jury for child abuse came out on Friday of the following week. The Vikings quickly made Peterson inactive for their week two game against the New England Patriots, I played one of my other running backs (who is not nearly as talented as Peterson) and lost to my week two opponent.3 On Monday of this week, one day after the Vikings-Patriots game, the team decided to reinstate Peterson and make him active for week three.
This is where my problem comes in: how could I keep Peterson on my team, being aware that I’m going to be relying on him to be a major contributor every week, while also knowing that this man believes that it is acceptable to hit a child with a stick until he bleeds? How do I cheer for him to do well in a game that earns him more game and money after I’ve seen the pictures of what he did to his four-year-old son? Could I feel happy about deriving benefit from a man who writes off child abuse as a “cultural thing?” It is a game, after all, and the objective is to win. Having the best players drastically increases your likelihood of winning, and Peterson is easily one of the best players in the league. Cutting Rice wasn’t as big a deal; as I said, even before he was suspended indefinitely, I was never expecting to have to use him for a win. Cutting Peterson, though, would severely handicap my team and would jeopardize my chances at making the playoffs almost immediately.
I decided I couldn’t keep him.
I just couldn’t reconcile the inner conflict I was experiencing regarding Peterson’s belief about child discipline and my enjoyment of playing fantasy sports. I knew that if I kept him on my team, I’d continue to feel guilty about it, week after week, and that every time I went to check Peterson’s stats, I’d see the numbers and the points but I’d also keep seeing the pictures of his son’s welts and bruises. I cut him from my team and picked up a different player instead. I can be angry with Peterson for his understanding of appropriate forms of discipline. I can be angry with the NFL for being wishy-washy about taking a firm stance on domestic violence. If I’d kept Peterson on my team, though, I could only be angry with myself.
Postscript: I wrote most of this post on the train on my way to work and I hadn’t checked ESPN before I left. Apparently the Vikings ended up deactivating Peterson indefinitely while the legal process continues, which means Peterson is getting a similar punishment as Rice in that neither of them are eligible to play again this season (although apparently the NFL Players Association is appealing Rice’s new suspension). I was happy, though, that I had made the decision to cut Peterson before hearing the news.
1. Here’s some really quick background information just in case you’re unfamiliar with fantasy sports. The general premise is as follows: players draft (or buy, in auction leagues) teams of professional players in a given sport to create a “fantasy” roster and then use those players’ statistics in real-life games to compete against other players’ rosters. The winners take home anything from money and physical trophies to simple bragging rights and pride. And, before you say that sounds like a silly waste of time, you should be aware that Forbes magazine estimates that the fantasy sports industry earns somewhere between 40 and 70 billion dollars every year.↩
3. My week two opponent was my father, in case you were wondering.↩