PALESTINE, Texas – Mementos from Adrian Peterson’s football career are enclosed in a glass case near the entrance to Palestine High School.

His jersey and a plaque honoring his state track accomplishments hang in the corner of a local restaurant. Dozens of kids wore Peterson’s No. 28 Vikings jersey to Pop Warner games at the high school stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Peterson’s attachment to Palestine remains deep and personal, and the support of his hometown has not wavered with the news of Peterson’s felony arrest for child abuse against his 4-year-old son.

“These are hard times going on for him right now,” said Jerry Mayo, who served as superintendent of Palestine schools when Peterson was a student. “But from my standpoint and the people around here, we’re not going to turn our back on him. I don’t see that at all.”

Peterson’s punishment and his future with the Vikings remain unclear at this point as the organization contemplates its next step.

Peterson’s arrest last week jolted the team and the NFL at a time when news of criminal behavior has engulfed the league and brought intense scrutiny.

In Palestine on Sunday, Peterson’s supporters and longtime friends said their feelings for him remain unchanged because they don’t believe that he meant to harm his son. Mayo acknowledged being emotionally conflicted because the boy suffered injuries.

“This is really disheartening to me because I’ve known Adrian since he was very young,” Mayo said. “Our community supports Adrian because he’s a good person. What happened shouldn’t have happened. You can’t reverse it. You just have to deal with it.”

Peterson’s case has sparked renewed debate over the use of corporal punishment. Peterson told police that the “whooping” he gave his son mirrored punishment he received as a child. Others in Peterson’s hometown noted that corporal punishment is fairly common in East Texas.

“It’s something that’s done within the framework of the home,” Mayo said. “The home and how they treat each [child] is each person’s take. I know some homes have a lot stronger opinion about discipline and how it’s handled.”

Peterson’s beloved status in Palestine created barriers of distrust in conversations about his legal troubles around town on Sunday. Several of Peterson’s relatives and friends declined to be interviewed for this story. Others who know Peterson reacted warily when approached by a reporter.

Peterson’s stepfather, Frankie Jackson, serves as pastor at a Baptist church in the town of Grapeland, which has a population of 1,489. The church sits along a one-lane dirt road deep in the Texas countryside.

Jackson politely declined to comment on the front steps of his church before service Sunday, citing the sensitive nature of the situation.

Mike Thompson, a fellow pastor who has known the Peterson family for years, said he invited his congregation to pray for Peterson and his family during his service.

“We’re standing behind him because that’s what we do as a community,” Thompson said.

Steve Eudey served as Peterson’s youth football coach for five years. Their sons grew up together and Eudey ran Peterson’s youth camps after he was drafted by the Vikings. Eudey travels to Mankato every summer as Peterson’s guest at training camp.

“The Adrian Peterson I have known for over 20 years was taught respect for others and not allowed to bully anyone,” Eudey said. “Since becoming a Viking I have seen AD treat young kids, including his own, very tenderly with kindness and respect.”

Palestine has a population of roughly 20,000 and is described as a close-knit community that loves high school football. Peterson earned legendary status as the nation’s No. 1 recruit as a senior. The school retired his jersey number last season.

Peterson’s supporters say they admire that he maintained a connection and visible presence within Palestine after he left for college and ultimately became an NFL superstar.

Peterson donates football equipment and uniforms to kids. The city hosts an annual “Adrian Peterson Day” and parade every summer.

Peterson’s arrest has hit the town hard. One man questioned why Peterson is being punished for “spanking his kid.” Others admitted feeling conflicted because a child suffered injuries but they also love Peterson and believe in him.

“It’s a sad situation,” Mayo said. “I hope for the best for the child and I hope the best for Adrian. I think this community of Palestine is still in his corner and will be because he didn’t turn his back on us when things were going real good for him.”

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