How to Root for Bad Guys

Adrian Peterson is one of the NFL’s top running backs, but his conduct complicates matters. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on September 15, 2015.

The NFL has a lot of guys one would not characterize as “upstanding citizens.”

Every time something truly terrible goes down, the collective politically-correct masses swear up and down that “they won’t watch football this year.” Then they remember how great of an excuse football is for lazy Sundays, and how much they love fantasy football. As the reasons as to why they love football build up, invariably they are all back on Sunday afternoons (and Thursday nights and Monday nights and sometimes Saturday nights).

Should we feel bad about it? Should we feel dirty about cheering for guys like Adrian Peterson and Michael Vick and every other paragon of how to be a terrible guy?

I guess you can feel bad, dirty, despicable or whatever you want, but at the end of the day, there is a disconnect between the player and the person.

We see it in sports all the time. We outsiders get all high and mighty, but when the season comes back, we welcome our favorite players back with open arms. How many people even remember Roethlisberger’s rape allegations in 2010?  Or, to go to another sport, Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault allegations from 2003?  Because let’s be real, you and I are not going to stop watching the NFL anytime soon.

In the wake of the Ray Rice incident and the subsequent semi cover-up by the NFL, there was a big movement led to boycott games. There’s two problems with that: One is that just you and a couple of people not watching the NFL isn’t going to change anything. It is the monster it is because of the rabid fan base. And two, at the end of the day your friends, your fantasy football teams and lazy Sundays will bring you back.

So if you come back, what do you do about these guys? You can chose to hate them and always root against them, which is your prerogative. I know plenty of people who still hate Michael Vick, despite the fact that he served his jail time and seems wholly repentant. But what about if you had a top pick in your fantasy draft and Adrian Peterson was available? Or if you are a Vikings fan and your team’s hope hinge on his efforts? I say root for him, and all of the other miscreants and criminals in the NFL. The player and the person do not have to be one and the same. To make a non-football analogy, look at Robert Downey Jr. His past is marred by drug use and general debauchery, but now, he is one of the most beloved actors around the globe. Why can’t that disconnect apply to the world of sports, especially football, which it plagues so much?

Athletes are often viewed as role models, which is why there is always an uproar following one of these incidents. But if the problem is “the kids”, parents can use them as an example. People do bad things, which is one lesson. But another could potentially be that redemption is possible. That, at the end of the day, you can overcome your past mistakes.

Obviously, there are some terrible guys in the NFL, but won’t stop me from enjoying watching them play.

Note: Since publishing, I’ve changed my mind a little bit on this topic. It probably should’ve been “some bad guys”, and maybe AP is not one of them. Greg Hardy is definitely not. That guy deserves all hate.

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