Reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings has been criticized for his decision to play in Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers despite the fact that a son — that he had only recently learned existed — had died of head injuries consistent with child abuse.
Mr. Peterson, a running back known for his personal and professional toughness, said he never thought about not playing, and while some commentators criticized the decision, his teammates and fellow athletes rallied to his side, saying the man should be permitted to seek whatever solace he could at such a time.
Mr. Peterson's father told reporters that the 2-year-old boy in Sioux Falls, S.D., was indeed Mr. Peterson's son, confirmed by DNA testing following the mother's realization that the boy was not the child of her ex-boyfriend.
The mother's new boyfriend, 27-year-old Joseph Patterson, who has a criminal history of battering women and their young children, is in jail on $750,000 bond in the case. Mr. Peterson, who may have known about his paternity for only a couple of months, had not seen the child until he visited him while the boy was on life support in the hospital.
In the days since the child's death, it has come to light that the unmarried Mr. Peterson may have had as many as five children by four different women. They include a 6-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy by his current girlfriend, a 4-year-old with a dancer in a "gentleman's club" in Dallas and a 3-month-old with a waitress in Minnesota. He is said to be providing financial support to those children.
All of this transpired at the conclusion of a week when the call for the Washington Redskins to abandon a nickname viewed by some as offensive reached fever pitch, culminating in sportscaster Bob Costas' self-righteous address, delivered during halftime of Sunday Night Football.
President Barack Obama has suggested that owner Dan Snyder think about changing the name, the league is applying pressure on the team, and any number of sportswriters have said they will not use the name in their reporting.
But, so far, nobody has criticized Adrian Peterson for his careless and cavalier sexual behavior.
The question we should be asking is not whether Mr. Peterson should have played football Sunday. But whether he should have worn a condom when having sex. Or whether he should be having sex with waitresses and dancers at all.
While the death of the boy is a horrible tragedy, that doesn't disqualify us from considering Mr. Peterson's casual approach to parenthood. Why are we so indifferent to this kind of casual, serial fatherhood?
Mr. Peterson is by no means alone. Baltimore's own adored Ray Lewis has six children by four women and is not married to any of them. The gilded Dan Marino, married father of four, has a child with one of his former network co-workers. The list of NFL stars who are populating the earth without regard to the value of a stable home life for children is as long as a training camp roster.
And still no outrage from those who would hold football players accountable for so many other sins. It seems that they get a pass because they are supporting the children, made that much easier by their enormous playing contracts. But dollars, while very handy, don't get it done when it comes to raising children.
We praise our sports heroes when they set examples of good citizenship in their adoptive communities, but we haven't got the guts to call them out when they behave like alley cats.
Real men don't have to take responsibility for a handful of children they never saw coming because real men wear condoms when they are having sex with women they barely know, women who might be looking for a payday pregnancy.
These NFL stars are not real men. They are careless adolescents. And the children are the ones who pay for their play.
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.