Adrian Peterson will be the subject of a feature in ESPN The Magazine‘s upcoming NFL preview issue, which will shed some insight into what the Minnesota Vikings running back’s life has been like since his legal troubles emerged last season. Peterson, one of the league’s elite runners, was suspended for the majority of the 2014-2015 season amidst allegations of child abuse.
Last September, Peterson was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson allegedly used a “switch” to beat his 4-year-old son, who suffered “slash-like wounds” to several parts of his body. He later pled no contest to the assault charge, avoiding jail time through a plea agreement.
Although he successfully managed to maneuver his way out of a jail sentence and back into football pads this season, the scrutiny and criticism of his off-the-field lifestyle has still come heavy and often, and it seems like he continues to shoot himself in the foot. Last fall, Peterson also admitted to marijuana use and being unfaithful to his wife, copping to using money from his All Day company to fund an orgy that included a minor — Peterson’s younger brother.
In ESPN The Magazine‘s feature, it becomes clearer how and why Peterson continues to lead such a questionable life away from football: he surrounds himself with enablers. He lives in his own world consisting of only those who allow him to completely forget about his past transgressions.
He spends the bulk of his time with friends who believe he has done nothing wrong. He asks his relatives not to talk about the allegations of child abuse, not to use that word — “abuse” — in his presence, and they willingly play their part. While NFL insiders spent their offseason debating Peterson’s actions and any hope for redemption, he acted as if not much had changed. Inside his manufactured community, he remains the victim of a colossal misunderstanding — an icon with little to prove and nothing to redeem.
For his 30th birthday this summer, Peterson threw himself an extravagant Arabian-themed party and invited 320 friends to help them (and himself) forget about his troubles from the past year. The details provided in the magazine are insane, as are the photos from the event website.
It’s all part of the strategy by which Peterson has built his record-setting career: The people he trusts are those who enable him. The reality that matters is the one he creates and they help maintain.
For his birthday, what he wanted to create was a no-expense-spared Arabian wonderland in the backyard of his Houston mansion.
They found a lemur available for rent and a python that would drape like a scarf over Peterson’s shoulders. They imported a troupe of snake charmers out of Dallas and world-renowned belly dancers from New York. There was an elaborate tent city in Peterson’s backyard: Moroccan couches, velvet drapes, ice sculptures bearing Peterson’s initials, imported trees and a throne on which Peterson alone would be allowed to sit. The cake designer baked a royal palace flanked by a fondant camel and elephant. Wale agreed to perform. Jamie Foxx offered his services as a DJ. In the final hours before the party, more than 100 workers rushed to set up stripper poles, a hookah bar and a cigar humidor in a tent called the Man Cave.
“Even the port-a-potties were over the top, with silver sinks and shiny floors,” says Bobby Maze, one of Peterson’s closest friends. “You would have thought you were going to the bathroom at Ruth’s Chris.”
And, apparently, dropping boatloads of cash to surround yourself in your own personal kingdom has fostered desired results for AP. It’s clear in the piece that Peterson’s friends and the people in his hometown of Palestine, Texas — where they recognize his child abuse as a “hallmark of good parenting” — still treat him like a god whenever he’s around. They threw him a parade in June.
“Sometimes the best way to move on is to basically just try to forget the bad stuff, enjoy yourself and pretend like nothing much really happened,” says Joe Davis, Peterson’s cousin.
It’s one thing to stand behind one of your own through tough times, but it’s another to encapsulate them in a bizarre alternate reality in which they can continuously be heralded for how great they are. It seems clear that the people that surround Peterson have done very little to help him learn from his mistakes and become a better person over the past year.
And while he seems to be having a great time living in his own world now, plenty of former athletes can attest that sometimes when the money runs dry, so does the loyalty. With that in mind, Peterson might want to be a little more open to learning from his past troubles if he likes being showered with all that love so much. Either that or maybe just stick to a budget and settle for the regular port-a-potties at his next birthday party.
Who knows, maybe Peterson’s “suspended reality” and continued support will lead him to become the man all those friends so desperately want him to be. One can only hope, especially with the announcement made toward the conclusion of his fancy birthday party.
“We’re having another baby,” Peterson told the crowd, simply, and if that announcement seemed to the wider world like a complicated piece of news, it elicited only one reaction in this world. Under the artificial lights of his Arabian wonderland, his supporters cheered.