Reportedly, Adrian Peterson’s tenure with the Minnesota Vikings is over because “he really doesn’t get it” concerning the child abuse charges he faces in Texas.
Unfortunately, neither do some of the Saints players.
When asked about their thoughts on Peterson taking down the pants and underwear of his 4-year-old son and using a switch to whip him so severely that even a week later the cuts on his buttocks and legs were still scabbed over, the responses ranged from outright support (“I feel like he should be playing,” Robert Meachem said) to rationalization (“My grandma would have been put in jail if she lived in this time, but I feel like I turned out all right,” Curtis Lofton said) to carefully measured neutrality (“I feel like there’s so much we don’t know. … So I’ll leave my comments at that,” Drew Brees said).
Which is a shame.
While for many spanking remains an acceptable form of discipline for a child (and there’s a big difference between a light pop on the behind and doing it repeatedly over a bent knee), there’s no justification for the kind of pain inflicted by Peterson in his “whipping room” that also housed a collection of belts, presumably for use if a switch wasn’t around. But if parents hear from Saints players that corporal punishment should be the first option when it comes to child discipline, that may influence them to feel the same way.
It’s also an issue that’s gotten far less traction than the Ray Rice case, which has devolved into more of a him-against-the-NFL argument than shining the spotlight on domestic violence.
All of that is very disappointing to Staci LeBlanc, executive director of the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital, which has received strong support from the Saints over the years.
“I understand about being uncomfortable criticizing your peers,” she said with a heavy sigh in her voice. “But we need leaders in our community to understand that there are more effective ways to discipline children, and that this is a golden opportunity to educate parents and the community at large about the negative effects of corporal punishment.
“I had hoped that more had taken a stand.”
Some of the Saints weren’t the only ones in the disappointing category.
Former Saints running back Reggie Bush, now with the Detroit Lions, recently said of his 1-year-old daughter: “I will obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her. But I definitely will discipline her harshly depending on what the situation is.”
That must be one unruly toddler.
Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson told Peterson, a fellow Texan, to “stay strong,” and that once the child is 12 or 13, “he’ll understand what’s going on.”
Basketball great Charles Barkley expanded on what Lofton said, adding: “Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”
At least Hall of Famer Chris Carter spoke out, saying that his mother was wrong in the way she disciplined him, and that “You can’t beat a kid to make them do what they wanna do.”
Barkley later acknowledged that what was acceptable in 1964 may not be in 2014, but his remarks about black parents also added a sad context from our past to Peterson’s actions.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, sociologist Michael Eric Dyson pointed out that among many black families, severe punishment in child rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery, when parents would break a rebellious child’s spirit to put him in fear of the dire consequences of defying white authority.
It’s not, Dyson continued, a leap of logic that such actions today might prevent the same thing happening with a trigger-happy white cop.
As comedian D.L. Hughley tweeted after the Peterson indictment: “A father’s belt hurts a lot less than a cop’s bullet.”
Reinforcing that is a poll by the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey showing that African-Americans favor spanking more than whites, there’s more acceptance in the South than in other regions of the country and that born-again Christians are more likely to practice spanking.
That’s another aspect of the situation.
Saints guard Ben Grubbs, while indicating he felt Peterson had gone over the line, added that his family, which includes four children, is guided by Biblical principles.
Presumably that includes the incorrectly quoted admonition about “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Dyson informs that in Hebrew, the word “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” meaning the shepherd’s rod was used to guide, not to beat.
None of that is likely to change the attitudes of those who feel that how they discipline their children is their business alone and that whatever the degree, it’s done out of love.
But at best it’s misguided love. At worst, it’s sadistic cruelty.
And if more people in those positions of influence LeBlanc talked about would speak out forcefully about it, there might be a few less abused children out there.
Hopefully then, sooner than later, more Saints players will get it.
There are some children who can use their help — and ours.