How do you deny an accusation that hasn't actually been made?
One of the most infuriating things about the recent Patrick Peterson saga is that no one has actually accused LSU of any wrongdoing. The story is that Will Lyles offered Peterson to Texas A&M in exchange for $80,000, which A&M refused to pay.
However, since Peterson eventually signed with LSU, it's not a very big leap to say, "well, I guess LSU paid Lyles". It's the obvious assumption of almost every article written on this topic, even the original report from ESPN.
But the thing is, no one has actually come out and accused LSU of paying Peterson or Lyles. Sure, the idea has been planted in everyone's head Inception-like, but LSU is in the difficult position of denying a story that does not technically exist. If every word of the ESPN story is 100% true, there's still nothing that actually links LSU. Just a lot of innuendo and easy assumptions.
Peterson didn't exactly help himself with his strenuous denial. I liked that he came out and categorically denied everything instead of coming out with a classic non-denial denial. The problem is that he said something that was not only untrue, it was easily proven to be untrue.
So that gave the story additional legs, this time under some variation of the headline, "Peterson Lies".
The thing is, no one can show he's lying about the core allegation that he took money. But by calling a Peterson a liar, we can now confirm an accusation made by no one with a lie about something else. If the accusation is made by innuendo, why not the confirmation? It's par for the course.
Am I troubled by Peterson's comments? Of course. He didn't just say something untrue, he said something obviously untrue. It was just so easy to fact check his statement. Now, this doesn't mean he was lying.
He went to Texas A&M with his father, but it wasn't a "visit" by the terminology of recruiting. Peterson never had a "visit" at Texas A&M. That's the Bill Clinton defense, and I don't find it all that convincing. I'd be surprised if Peterson was choosing his words that carefully, using the technical definition of "visit".
He could have just forgotten. Not every misstatement is a lie. Peterson's never been in any trouble at LSU and he's always been a standup guy. I think, from LSU fans at least, he's earned the benefit of the doubt. The NCAA not so much, but I hate to go straight to "Peterson is a liar." That's just trashing the reputation of a guy we've always been proud of on and off the field. Seriously, how many schools did Peterson go to when he was being recruited? How many trips did he make? I honestly don't know, but I think it is quite easy to forget every single school that recruited you when you were one of the top recruits in the country. He probably had at least some contact with every single BCS school at some point. And A&M was never considered one of his top choices.
I don't expect, say, a Florida fan to buy that. Peterson doesn't have the same reservoir of goodwill outside the LSU fanbase, and that's entirely fair. It's up to everyone to determine how credible they find Peterson on their own, but I'm pretty uncomfortable jumping straight to "he's a dirty liar". That's a pretty strong allegation. Then again, he certainly opened himself up to the allegation.
Personally, I think the most likely explanation is that Peterson went in to all-denial mode without thinking it through. He got angry and just said deny, deny, deny. His statements seemed like he was genuinely angry. Which means that he's either mad because he's being falsely accused of being dirty or that he's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Both scenarios are entirely plausible. But before Peterson starts denying things in the future, perhaps he should wait for his accuser to step up to the plate. Right now, the only accusation is that Lyles tried to extort $80,000 from Texas A&M without Peterson's knowledge or consent. Let's have an actual accusation of wrongdoing before issuing another denial. That goes for LSU, too.