Their opinions matter

Adrian Peterson’s recent comments about marriage equality elicited a dangerous reaction of apathy.

Matthew Hoy

Last month Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made headlines when, in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, he stated that he is “not with” marriage equality. Facebook and Twitter lit up immediately, with people calling Peterson everything from “bigot” to “hero” for expressing his views on the controversial issue.

In response to the responses, the more jaded people pointed out that Peterson is paid millions of dollars to run quickly and avoid tackles. His opinion on same-sex marriage, they argue, is irrelevant. This opinion is presented under the guise of common sense, painted as a beacon of reason cutting its way through the over-dramatic waves of malarkey spewed by the more susceptible consumers of opinion media.

But the argument is nowhere near that simple. Professional athletes, for better or worse, are arbiters of our culture, nationally and internationally. Everyone knows who Michael Jordan is. And even if most people consider his opinion irrelevant, there will be those who value it.

First on this list are children, who, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, rank professional athletes second behind their parents as the most admired people in their lives. It follows that kids who hear the comments made by Peterson, the current NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year, might have their own views shaped by Peterson’s stance. Breeding that kind of intolerance is a step in the wrong direction.

Peterson’s comments against same-sex marriage were about as innocuous as they could have been, and they came only because he was asked about outspoken punter Chris Kluwe being released from the Vikings. It is important to remember, though, that Peterson’s polite, moderately open-minded statements still advocate oppression. No matter how amiable, hands off and tolerant Peterson may be, his position is none of those things.

Athletes are entitled to free speech, and their enhanced forum is earned, regardless of their qualifications. We need to stop pretending that their opinions don’t matter.