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OU football: Why Adrian Peterson carries some blame for his financial difficulties

Former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson will soon begin his 13th NFL season, his second with Washington. But even though he is soon to top $100 million in career salary earnings, reports have surfaced that he is nearly broke. [AP PHOTO]
Former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson will soon begin his 13th NFL season, his second with Washington. But even though he is soon to top $100 million in career salary earnings, reports have surfaced that he is nearly broke. [AP PHOTO]

The house was tidy and cozy but small.

Very small.

Fifteen years ago, I traveled to Palestine, Texas, to write about Adrian Peterson. He was only a high school senior then, a ballyhooed football recruit who was soon to sign with Oklahoma, but he was already built to run over would-be tacklers in the NFL. His 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame and his superstar potential filled the house.

Maybe it wasn’t so small as he was so big.

Maybe it was both.

I’ve been thinking about that house and Peterson since news surfaced last week that he is nearly broke. He is entering his 13th season in the NFL. He has made nearly $100 million in salary and likely millions more in endorsements. And yet, he is deep in debt.

It’s sad.

Here’s a guy who came from the toughest of situations. He saw his brother killed by a drunk driver when they were just kids, then watched his father go to prison for money laundering. He had so many reasons to go off the rails; he didn’t.

But now, it seems, a part of his life has. A Pennsylvania lender filed a lawsuit last week alleging Peterson defaulted on a $5.2 million loan taken out to pay off other debts. This comes only a month after a Maryland court ordered him to repay another lender the unpaid balance on a $4 million loan.

As grim as that sounds, it gets worse.

An attorney for Peterson issued a statement last week saying the running back was “taken advantage of by those he trusted.” The lawyer, whose specialty is helping athletes who've been defrauded, said “this is yet another situation of an athlete trusting the wrong people.”

That’s sad, too.

But before we go and completely blame bad actors who may have swindled Peterson, we need to remember he isn’t blameless either. There are plenty of signs indicating he didn’t lose all his money because of others.

Peterson hasn’t exactly been frugal.

The most public indication of that came four years ago when Peterson turned 30 and hosted an elaborate birthday party. Actually, elaborate sells short this shindig, pictures of which went viral on social media. It was ostentatious. Gaudy. Garish, even.

The party was held in the backyard of Peterson’s Houston mansion, but it transported guests to the Middle East. More than 300 guests congregated in tents with velvet drapes and Moroccan couches. They were entertained by snake charmers from Dallas and belly dancers from New York.

Peterson rode into the party on a camel rented from a zoo in Austin.

All that — and more — came at a cost.

While a total dollar amount has never come to light, longtime sports business reporter Darren Rovell said recently on Twitter that Peterson spent over a million dollars alone on travel and lodging for guests. Yes, Peterson paid for all 300-plus guests to fly in and stay in Houston. The airplane tickets were first-class, and the hotel rooms were five-star.

Peterson didn’t just live extravagantly on his birthday. As he’s changed jobs in the NFL, he’s sold homes in various locales, including the suburbs of Houston and Minneapolis, and those listings gave us a glimpse of his lifestyle.

His home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, wasn’t all that crazy. More than 4,000 square feet. Five bedrooms. Three-and-half bathrooms. When he moved from the Vikings, who originally drafted him, to the Saints, he put the house on the market for a little under $700,000.

But several years into his career, he also bought a home in The Woodlands, the upscale suburb of Houston, and it was most definitely crazy. More than 10,000 square feet. Seven bedrooms. Eight full bathrooms and five half-bathrooms. Five fireplaces. Two-story library. Walk-in wine cellar. Movie theater. Pool with a swim-up bar.

It’s mind-boggling to think about the house Peterson lived in as a high school senior in East Texas and the one he had in The Woodlands. In less than a decade, he went from small to grandiose. From cozy to palatial.

But now, the feel good of Peterson climbing that ladder is gone. He racked up millions of dollars in debt. He lived in a way that led him to take out loans to pay off other creditors. And now, he is faced with an uncertain future instead of a life of luxury.

He’ll probably have to play longer than he would like. Maybe he already is. He’ll probably need to keep doing appearances and endorsements long after he retires from the NFL, too. All that just to pay his bills.

I say none of this to infer Peterson deserved to be robbed by crooked financial advisers. If what his lawyer says is true, if Peterson was indeed swindled out of millions of dollars, that is wrong. Period.

But such scoundrels don’t shoulder all the blame for Adrian Peterson's financial struggles.

He must carry some, too.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›