MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson donned his familiar purple No. 28 jersey and jogged on to the practice field Tuesday.
It was the start of a gradual process of putting behind the chaos and confusion that engulfed him and the Minnesota Vikings over the past nine months.
After making a surprise return to practice for the first time since September, Peterson said he has “learned a lot from my mistake” that resulted in child abuse charges against him. He side-stepped questions about wanting a trade and said he was happy to be back with the teammates and coaches who also endured a great deal of uncertainty while he was away.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I’m not taking it lightly at all. It’s something I regret. My son knows that. People know that, and the people that truly know me and know my character and know what type of person I am when I’m with my kids and around my kids, they know that as well. Really, to me, that’s the only thing that matters.”
Peterson was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list last September after he whipped his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch. The photos of the wounds the boy suffered at Peterson’s hands brought harsh criticism of the once-beloved face of the franchise. Sponsors severed ties with him and the Vikings, and Peterson missed the final 15 games of the season while working his way through the legal process.
He said he has gone through counselling and therapy sessions as part of a plea agreement that dropped the charge to a misdemeanour. He’s learned to use other forms of discipline on his children, including timeouts and taking toys away when it is warranted.
The 2012 NFL MVP said he has a loving relationship with his son to this day, and also addressed reports that surfaced in the wake of his charges that he fathered children from several different women.
“I love all my kids with all my heart,” Peterson said. “I’ll run through a brick wall for them. I’ll jump in front of a car for them. That’s the type of love I have for my kids. … A lot of people like to run with negative things. I’m used to that in life. Not just in my life, but things that I see in this world. But I’m comfortable with knowing my intentions and I’m comfortable with knowing that my child loves me and he wants to be around me.”
The relationship between the team and its franchise player had been tense since the abuse allegations first surfaced. He was angered by a perceived lack of support from some members of the organization, namely Kevin Warren, the team’s chief operating officer.
Shortly after Peterson was reinstated by the league in April, his representatives pushed for a trade to get him a fresh start. When that didn’t happen, the focus turned to his contract. Just last week, he vented on Twitter about the details.
“With everything going on in my life at that time, I really didn’t know what I wanted,” Peterson said. “I really didn’t know if I wanted to play somewhere else, if I wanted to retire, I didn’t know if I wanted to get into track and do something different. That’s where receiving advice from my parents, my advisers really played a big role.”
The 30-year-old will have his $12.75 million salary for 2015 guaranteed in Week 1, but all bets are off after that. Peterson’s search for more guaranteed money in the final two years of his deal brought even more criticism from fans who believed he should be grateful for the organization’s continued support after his legal troubles.
“I’m definitely not the victim and I haven’t tried to play the victim in this role,” Peterson said.
The Vikings maintained all along they had no plans to trade Peterson, believing his presence could help turn a team that finished 7-9 last year into a playoff contender.
“We welcome him with open arms, unequivocally,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s been such a tremendous, tremendous part of this organization. I have the utmost respect for him. Always have. I’ve always supported him 100 per cent and I will continue to do so as long as he’s with us. Hopefully that’s for a long, long time.”
Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, told The Associated Press they have been given no assurances his contract will be addressed.
In the end, Peterson’s bond with Zimmer and his desire for a return to normalcy helped bridge the considerable gap.
“This guy is a Hall of Fame player,” Zimmer said. “He’s not just a guy coming off the street. This guy is really, really special and I love his heart, his competitiveness and the way he wants to win and the way he wants this team to compete for what we all want to win.”
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Jon Krawczynski, The Associated Press