EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Star running back Adrian Peterson returned to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, insisting he is not a child abuser and wanting "everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child" after he was charged with a felony in Texas for using a wooden switch to spank his 4-year-old son.
The Vikings had benched Peterson for Sunday's 30-7 home loss to the New England and he had not commented publicly since news broke Friday that he had lashed the boy with the switch earlier this summer, causing an unspecified injuries.
"I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser," Peterson said in a nearly 500-word statement issued through his agency. "I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury.
"No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that's what I tried to do that day."
Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said they had decided to bring back Peterson for practices and Sunday's game at New Orleans "after significant thought, discussion and consideration." The Wilfs said they want to let the legal process play out before making any more definitive decisions on Peterson's future with the only NFL team he has ever played for.
"To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child," they said. "At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action."
The Wilfs were not available for further comment on Monday but general manager Rick Spielman said they are going to leave the decision about whether Peterson crossed a line while disciplining his son up to the courts.
"We are trying to do the right thing," Spielman said. "This is a difficult path to navigate regarding the judgment of how a parent disciplines his child. Based on the extensive information we have right now and what we know of Adrian not only as a person but what he's done for this community, we believe he deserves to play while the legal process plays out."
Peterson faces a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, which carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His initial court appearance in Conroe, Texas, near Houston, was scheduled for Oct. 8.
Corporal punishment is legal in Texas and non-deadly force against a child by a parent or guardian is permissible. But the punishment is abusive if it causes injury. A blow that leaves a bruise, welt or swelling, or requires medical attention, could be judged abusive. The guidelines also say use of an instrument "is cause for concern."
Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said Peterson used a switch because that was the way he was brought up by his parents in Palestine, Texas, and the NFL star agreed in his statement. He was not available to reporters.
"I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen," Peterson said. "I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child. I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate."
The Vikings decided not to play Peterson against the Patriots, moving swiftly after a week in which the NFL came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a domestic violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Spielman said the Vikings have seen files the authorities have built on Peterson's case, including some photos of the injuries the boy sustained.
"The photos are disturbing. I understand that," Spielman said. "But to be clear, any matter that's involving the child is very important for this organization. But we also think it is right for him to go through the process legally."
The Vikings clearly see Peterson's case as different from the 2011 case involving former cornerback Chris Cook, who was accused of choking his girlfriend and charged with domestic assault. Cook was suspended by the team, reinstated with pay and then barred from all team activities, including games, while the legal process unfolded.
Cook wound up missing 10 games and was eventually acquitted. He never faced discipline from the NFL and played two more seasons with the Vikings before signing with the 49ers.
The Vikings also cut cornerback A.J. Jefferson last year, less than a day after he was arrested for domestic assault. But Spielman steadfastly denied the team's decision on Peterson had anything to do with his status as one of the best players in the league and his ability to help the team win games.
"It has nothing to do with him as a football player," Spielman said. "It's based purely on the facts that we have that have been presented to us."
The NFL is looking into Peterson's case, and if convicted he could face a minimum six-game suspension under the league's new domestic abuse policy that was implemented after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he botched Rice's initial punishment.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he had input during deliberations, but ultimately it was ownership's decision to let him play again.
"It's important that when I ask these players to do the things I ask them to do, to fight for me, to run through the wall for me, that I'm able do my very best to help support them when I can," Zimmer said.
The Vikings' decision to reinstate Peterson came on the same day the NFL announced that three experts in domestic violence will serve as senior advisers to the league and help shape policies.
"I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct," Peterson said. "Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person."