Commentary

Peterson's clean rep in jeopardy

Fair or not, Vikings RB forced into damage control as he faces daunting PR battle

Originally Published: July 11, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Winston Churchill was right, and he didn't even know about Twitter. A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. In 2012, a lie can even make a round-trip. Tweet, retweet, boom. A hard-earned reputation can get trashed just like that.

That is why Adrian Peterson is so aggressively fighting a charge that he resisted arrest early Saturday morning outside a Houston nightclub. Peterson spent a couple of hours in jail before posting a $1,000 bond and plugging the number of acclaimed defense attorney Rusty Hardin into his speed dial. Peterson didn't take the I'm-sorry-I-made-a-mistake route, which seems to work so well in this country, at least the first time around. He went all in with the I-didn't-do-it defense, which can work, too, presuming he is telling the truth.

Time will tell, but this much we know: Peterson is as protective of his image as any player in the National Football League not named Larry Fitzgerald. He is one of the elite, and he has carefully constructed and diligently preserved an image that has translated into tens of millions of dollars and a slew of fans.

Peterson doesn't want even a minor infraction on his record to cloud the public's opinion of him. He doesn't want to be doubted. He has worked too hard to do the right thing, to be a positive role model, to have influence and to mean something more than being just another self-absorbed athlete.

Plus, Peterson has kids. At least one is old enough to use Google. A smiling mug shot is still a mug shot. It's never good for a child to see his or her parent incarcerated, even for a few hours.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireProtective of his public image, Adrian Peterson is doing all he can to prove his innocence.

And Peterson isn't stupid. He understands that the 24-hour news cycle really has become an 86,400-second cycle, where news -- or, as Peterson claims, lies -- travels in the blink of a tweet. It is hard to undo the damage that can be done. Hence, Peterson's hiring of Hardin.

All things considered, the charge against Peterson is minuscule. It is a misdemeanor punishable likely by only a fine. It's not like Peterson pulled a fire alarm at a hotel, as Philadelphia running back Dion Lewis did over the weekend, or got a DUI. Paying Hardin, who successfully defended Roger Clemens against perjury charges in two federal trials, will cost Peterson substantially more than simply paying the fine and moving on, but the cost to Peterson is apparently worth the benefit.

This is about more than just an alleged incident with off-duty police officers outside a nightclub. This is about Peterson's stellar reputation. Now, there is a blip. There is a question. There is doubt, at least for some people. Is the image Peterson portrayed all of these seasons a farce? Is the golden boy not so golden? Is Peterson, like so many other professional athletes, a diva who didn't like being told to go home?

The allegation against Peterson doesn't sound like him, but anyone can slip, right?

This is where Hardin comes in, and he wasted no time managing the crisis. He vigorously denied the charges. He said his client was the victim, not the aggressor. Hardin said in a statement released Monday that Peterson was actually struck twice in the face "for absolutely no legitimate reason." On Tuesday, Hardin made the media rounds and said Peterson had bruises on his face examined by doctors.

"Adrian is extremely upset about these false allegations," Hardin said in a statement. "These charges are totally at odds with the way he has conducted himself throughout his career, and he asks that his fans and the public at large reserve judgment until they hear all the facts. Adrian looks forward to his day in court."

Reserving judgment is a lost art, maybe even a dead one, particularly where star athletes are concerned, but people still can forgive. Other stars have bounced back from far worse than what Peterson is facing -- Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick, to name just two.

But I get where Peterson is coming from. He is standing up to protect his reputation, and his livelihood. He is fighting more of a public relations battle than a legal one. He is trying to protect his name and all of the good deeds he has done since entering the NFL as the seventh overall pick out of Oklahoma in 2007.

This minor incident won't adversely affect Peterson. Neither the NFL nor the Vikings will suspend him. He won't lose endorsement deals. But it is his reputation, and in a world where Twitter spreads news and everything else faster than even Churchill would believe, Peterson is right to be concerned.

"Thank you for waiting for the facts," Peterson tweeted Sunday. "Truth will surface."

Maybe so, but it will have a lot of ground to cover. Even Twitter and a never-ending news cycle won't change that.