It's hard to understate how shocking Adrian Peterson's arrest is in Minnesota. It's just a misdemeanor, for a weird sole charge of resisting arrest, and the details of the incident sound less than damning, but this is AP. All Day. Purple Jesus. Peterson has never had even a whiff of trouble, and by all accounts is one of those rare pro athletes you don't feel gross about putting up as a role model. This is like Derek Jeter or Kevin Durant being jailed, and locally at least, is still a major story. Big enough for Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to weigh in on at length, during an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.
Asked about Peterson's arrest, Dayton agreed that it's not an open-and-shut case, and that Peterson "has really proven to be an upstanding citizen and a really fine role model." But he went on to speculate that there's something in the football mindset that lends itself to finding trouble, and those comments are causing all the fuss. As transcribed by the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
"Idle time is the devil's play," said Dayton, describing the NFL's six-month offseason. "It means that young males who are heavily armored and heavily psyched as necessary to carry out their job are probably more susceptible to being in bars at 2 o'clock (in the morning) and having problems. It doesn't excuse it. It just says this probably comes with it."
Dayton linked the wayward behavior of players to post-traumatic stress disorder soldiers suffer after returning home from combat, describing professional football as "civilized war."
"Shake one of their hands and you know that this (football player) is someone who is not your ordinary citizen. They're heavily armored, heavily psyched to do what they have to do and go out there. It's, basically, slightly civilized war," Dayton said. "Then they take that into society. Much as soldiers come back, they've been in combat or the edge of it and suddenly that adjustment back to civilian life is a real challenge. And that's part of the reality. That's not to say it's good and it shouldn't be improved. It should."
Dayton botched his "idle hands" quote, and unfortunately that's the one that's drawing headlines in the Pioneer Press and elsewhere. But this really shouldn't be boiled down to "NFL players have too much time on their hands," because Dayton's other point—that football conditions men a certain way—is much more worthwhile.
Dayton didn't specifically say NFL players suffer from PTSD, and that's good because it'd be a hugely controversial statement. But NFL players do suffer from a lot of the same risk factors as do soldiers, some of whom develop medically recognized stress disorders: peak alertness, exposure to violence, constant threat of injury, head trauma. We already know lots of football players return to their families barely resembling the person they were before the sport.
They're also rich, filled with testosterone, and handed the keys to a 20-something's party paradise on the regular. So maybe there's not some deeper answer, one that neatly indulges our worst instincts to discuss a ball sport in military terms. (And maybe there's even less than nothing here: No one's proven that athletes get arrested more than non-athletes, and one admittedly crude study of DUI arrests actually finds the opposite.)
But it's worth keeping in the backs of our minds. In just the last five years, we've gone from zero to total acceptance that football causes unique neurological challenges for players after their careers end. Is it so crazy to wonder that it doesn't affect them while they're still playing?