Pete Dougherty's column on why the Packers should sign free agent running back Adrian Peterson starts innocently enough: Running back was a position of need for Green Bay all season and Peterson is one of the better backs of the past generation.
But when Dougherthy discusses what he calls the "elephant in the room," Peterson's no contest plea to child abuse charges that led to his suspension for most of the 2014 season, he veers into rather shocking racism.
The first draft of his story (since edited) on PackersNews.com read as follows:
As for Peterson, society is changing fast, and obviously for the better, on many things, including disciplining children. I’m 55 and have friends about a generation older who say corporal punishment in school was routine. That’s not that long ago.
Let’s also not forget that Peterson likely is descended from slaves who suffered savage disciplinary beatings generation after generation after generation. It excuses nothing but also can’t be ignored. This is learned behavior.
Ummmmmmm, what? It's racist enough to presuppose that Peterson's violent behavior was because he is descended from African slaves, but to make this assertion based on the assumption that Peterson is descended from slaves is downright ludicrous.
What Dougherty is saying is that because Peterson is African-American, the legacy of slavery has a direct impact on his decision-making and behavior even if Peterson's ancestors weren't slaves. That is to say that merely because Peterson is African-American, Peterson is more prone to acts of child abuse.
That is racist both on its face and in its heart.
Gannett Newspapers, which owns PackersNews.com and the Green Bay Press-Gazette, for which Dougherty works as a columnist, deleted the paragraph soon after Shepherd Express Packers writer Paul Noonan tweeted about it Thursday night.
The current draft of the story is preceded by an apology:
Note to readers: A paragraph in an earlier version of Pete Dougherty’s column that included a reference to Peterson’s punishment of his 4-year-old son being connected to America’s history of slavery was removed. It was poorly reasoned and insensitive. We apologize to all readers who were offended.
It was indeed offensive and Gannett was of course correct in removing the paragraph and issuing an apology, but it should also ask its writer why he apparently holds the racist belief that an African-American man like Adrian Peterson is somehow because of his race unable to overcome the victimization of slaves (which may or may not have included his own ancestors) from centuries ago and discipline his son in a way that comports with relevant child abuse laws.
This assumption of a criminal nature or behavioral pattern based on nothing more than Peterson being African-American is one of the most racist things one could possibly believe, and Gannett needs to make it very clear that it will not allow this sort of thinking to appear in its stories.