To: Marilyn Carlson Nelson
Former Chairman and CEO,
Dear Former Chairman Nelson:
At least since biblical times, innkeepers have been welcoming. Those of us who travel in foreign lands always feel welcome and smile when we see a Radisson sign. And it was in front of a Radisson logo-filled backdrop that a spokesperson for the Minnesota Vikings announced in mid-September that it would reinstate its star, Adrian Peterson, in spite of his indictment for child abuse in Texas. Within a few hours, Radisson announced its suspension of all sponsorship relationships with the Vikings.
After other corporate sponsors followed Radisson’s lead, Vikings owners recognized the strong reaction to the abuse charge and concluded they couldn’t simply put Peterson back on the field.
By Nov. 4, a plea agreement was reached that allowed Peterson to plead “no contest” to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault. The judge ordered Peterson to pay a $4,000 fine and perform 80 hours of community service. Beyond this legal outcome, the specifics of Peterson, a famous hard-hitting running back, hard-hitting the backside of his 4-year-old son raises serious cultural issues.
We are responsible for a culture that glorifies athletes regardless of their behavior. It has been an open secret that athletes (many of them African-American) on professional football and basketball teams have fathered an unusual number of out-of-wedlock children. Sports Illustrated published a famous article more than 20 years ago that ranked NBA teams by the number of illegitimate children fathered by players. Adrian Peterson, the Star Tribune reports, has fathered six children by six women. (Peterson did not see one of the children—who lived in South Dakota—until just before the boy died after he was severely beaten by another man.) These are the kinds of role models that are held up for impressionable youths to emulate. But it isn’t just professional sports.
Frequently, the sports section (the most widely read section) of our local newspaper, will feature a University of Minnesota athlete in its Sunday edition. These stories, if not initiated by the PR department of the University of Minnesota athletic department, are at least facilitated by that department. For example, on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2012, the front-page sports article—complete with numerous pictures—was all about football player MarQueis Gray. He had taken on the job of scrambling with “a pair of bruisers” (his 9-month-old twin boys) whom he had with his girlfriend, identified as 30. The article contained over 18 fulsome paragraphs of quotes from coaches and former players to the effect that this would make MarQueis a more mature player. It went on to note that MarQueis had grown close to his girlfriend’s daughter, then 13, and that at the age of 22, being the father of twins came somewhat as a shock. Twenty-eight paragraphs into the article, the newspaper did note that Gray had “completed his requirements for graduation.”
There are no quotes from professors or classmates regarding MarQueis Gray’s academic prowess, no glowing stories of taking his twin boys to a library; nor are we even told about his choice of a major at the university. Presumably, our only interest in MarQueis Gray is in his fatherhood, his unwed girlfriend and his football prospects. Gray is now a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings.
Is this the culture and the role model we want others to emulate?
A year later, in the Sunday sports section on Nov. 24, 2013, an article appeared about DeAndre Mathieu, a University of Minnesota 5-foot-8-inch point guard. That article draws at length on his difficult life history as chronicled in his tattoos. No one thought it would be of any interest to that Sunday’s readers to discuss Mathieu’s educational plans, his post-basketball career ambitions (he is 5 feet, 8 inches, after all), or the impact various professors had made upon his life. Assuming that sports writers for the Star Tribune at least contact the PR department of the athletic department at the University of Minnesota, no one at the university apparently felt there would be any interest in those matters either. One reads these stories with a certain dread and knowledge of the inevitable.
Sure enough, on July 3, 2014, and meriting only a Thursday spread in the local newspaper, we were informed that DeAndre Mathieu had become a father, complete with a picture of an adorable little baby. We are further informed that the mother, his girlfriend, lives far away in Kentucky. The Gopher coach is quoted as having congratulated the couple.
There is a clear line of responsibility from youth athletics to Adrian Peterson, and it is not the culture of the African-American South; it is the culture of big-money sports. There are a few simple prophylactics that one can apply to this problem. First, how about prophylactics? Is the responsibility of fatherhood and birth control part of the freshmen curricula for incoming student athletes at the University of Minnesota? It should be.
And most importantly, responsible corporate citizens like the Carlson companies can stand up for family values. If corporate sponsors make it clear that they will not spend large amounts of money to be associated with anti-family behavior, big-time sports will make changes. And what about big-time sports? The NFL has a conduct paragraph in its standard player’s contract that subjects the player to loss of income for the use of illegal drugs. Major corporate sponsors refuse to be associated with drug taking. Why not amend that clause to include anti-family behavior, like having children out of wedlock or refusing to pay court-ordered child support. Behavior in our culture can be changed by these actions.
Standing up for family values is what the innkeeper Radisson is all about. Congratulations and thank you.
Vance K. Opperman
Fan of Good Sportsmanship
Vance K. Opperman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.