Captains are revered in the NHL. They’re non-existent in Major League Baseball. In the NBA, they’re notorious for picking sides in the All-Star Game. And in the NFL, they mostly stand at midfield for the coin toss, possessing the ability to accept or decline penalties.
So what kind of designation does Patrick Peterson deserve in 2019? A ‘C’ on the jersey or a different kind of Scarlett letter?
There is no obvious answer yet because Peterson’s story is incomplete. The Cardinals surely want more from a captain than a guy who requested a trade in 2018, undermining a rookie head coach, and later claiming that personal frustration got the best of him. He apologized for his selfish behavior on the 16th hole of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a dramatic and heartwarming gesture that almost made the whole incident worthwhile.
NFL captaincies are not determined by owners or general managers. They are voted on by their peers, covering all elements of a football team, from offense to defense to special teams. The balloting is usually done in September, after a team shares the grind of training camp, after the sweat and the blood and the in-house fights, when true leaders emerge organically. A lot can happen between now and then.
But here’s where Peterson is under the microscope:
If his six-game suspension for PEDs was an honest mistake, you would think Peterson would be motivated to restore his image; show contrition through his actions; and doing anything he could to help the team cope with his absence.
That means showing up to every voluntary workout, lending his experience and his wisdom to the younger players who must cover opposing receivers while covering for Peterson’s off-field transgressions. Imagine the crash-course education he could provide a player like Byron Murphy. Or any of the other players who must answer for Peterson’s absence every Sunday for the first six weeks.
Peterson did not sound overly apologetic at his foundation’s red-carpet event last week, just hours after news of his suspension was broken by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. His anger toward the team seems to overwhelm the anger he should feel at himself.
He put a banned substance in his body at a time when every NFL veteran knows he must own his biochemistry. There is no ignorance when it comes to positive drug tests. And in the case of Peterson, there are heavy, unanswered questions over the additional two games tacked onto his drug suspension. Exactly what is the masking agent in play here?
We may never know.
But the best football players are gladiators. They have strong views on duty and honor, which is why they feel so strongly about the sport of football. The game is more than a well-paying endeavor. It’s a reflection of their courage and their character. It’s a profession that rewards the strong and spits out the weak, and no place for soft men.
I don’t question Peterson’s character or his dedication to football. I don’t deem it unconscionable for Peterson to occasionally wish for a better platform, a bigger stage, a winning team that allows his personal career to flourish. He’s had Deion Sanders in his ear a long time.
But it will be a gross injustice for Peterson to bail on this team and blame this team when the team is scrambling to clean up a mess of his making. He’s smart enough to know that.
Peterson didn’t show up for Monday’s team activities, along with a host of other marquee veterans who weren’t in attendance. But Peterson can help this young team in transition prepare for the games they must play without him. He can help give a lift to the nascent Kliff Kingsbury Era by caring enough to show up. And if he truly loves Arizona and not just the $4.5 million he’s going to lose in 2019, then his presence is more no-brainer.
It’s required. At least it would be for any self-respecting captain who cares about his legacy in Arizona.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. The show will be live from the Cardinals’ facility for voluntary OTAs through Wednesday.