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Facing tragedy head-on

Adrian Peterson's decision to play just two days after his son’s death is a testament to his resilience, writes James Gray-Foster.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has always been able to do a lot of things other people couldn’t.

He’s been named to five Pro Bowls in the last six seasons, he returned to the game nine months after doing his ACL and MCL to win the NFL’s MVP award, and he rushed for 2097 yards in a single season, carrying a team that at times relied almost solely on his dominance.

Yet despite all of his genetic gifts, Peterson’s most impressive asset is his bravery.

Less than five days after his son was tragically beaten to death, Peterson took to the field against the Carolina Panthers.

“Football is something I will always fall back on. It gets me through tough times. Just being around the guys in here, that’s what I need,” Peterson said to the NFL media.

His two-year-old boy, known as ‘Ty’, was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend, Joseph Robert Patterson, who has been charged for aggravated assault and aggravated assault on an infant.

But despite the horrific nature of this incident, it isn’t the first tribulation Peterson has had to endure in his life.

In times of need, football has been an ever-present distraction to fall back on for Peterson. Ordeals have spurred him on to be the best he can be.

adrien peterson

The 28-year-old’s first traumatic moment came at just aged seven, when he witnessed his older brother run over by a drunk driver.

“Losing him—actually seeing him get killed right there in front of me—made me a stronger person. My mom cried every night. Every night. Honest to God, she cried for a year,” confessed Peterson.

“My mum and dad had split up by then, so I had to sit there, comfort her, be strong and not show my tears, even though I was hurting as much as she was.”

Another incident which threatened to derail Peterson’s path to stardom happened he was when he was 13.  His father Nelson – who he shared a strong relationship with – was sentenced to 10-years prison for drug laundering.

It was a devastating occurrence for Peterson, whose father had not only taught him the game, but the proverbial right and wrong.

In a feature for ESPN magazine, father Peterson recalls a jail visit from his son when he was still a high school junior. Peterson urged young Adrian to narrow his focus on football and live up to his lofty potential.

“Right now, nobody knows who Adrian Peterson is,” he told him.

“I know you’re the best running back in Palestine [Texas], but that won’t get it. You have to be the best running back in the whole state. This is your year. Go out and make a name for yourself, son.”

Peterson did just that. He was soon considered the best young running back in the nation, and University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was quick to secure his signature.

But it unfortunately didn’t end there for Peterson. A day before the NFL combine, his half-brother Chris Paris was shot dead in Houston.

Unwilling to let the event stand in the way of his NFL dreams, Peterson responded in the way that only Peterson could.

With a broken collarbone, the 1.88m tall athlete ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, and the 20-yard distance in 2.58 seconds.

The Vikings ultimately selected him with their seventh overall selection, and in his seven years in Minnesota Peterson has grown to be regarded by some as the best running back of the modern era.

To this point, Peterson has never rested on his laurels. He’s publicly stated he has set himself the task of becoming the greatest player to play the position.

Although he has suffered his fair share of tragedy, Peterson credits his religion for equipping him with the steely resolve to cope. No matter how many times he falls down, his faith always helps him get back up.

“One thing I always bounce back to is that the good Lord never gives you more than you can bear, than you can handle. So I’m built tough,” he told Inquirer.

Adrian Peterson’s courage must be marveled at. He’s had to overcome obstacles that few would have experienced in their lives, yet somehow, found a way to be one of the best player of the modern era.

James Gray-Foster is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @JamesGrayFoster.

Featured image: Flickr Commons/Joe Bielawa

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