Spare the rod? [Commentary]

When a 'whooping' makes NFL headlines

September 17, 2014|Susan Reimer

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been charged in Texas with felony child abuse for allegedly beating his 4-year-old son so badly with a switch that it left welts, bruises and cuts on his back, buttocks, legs and scrotum and defensive wounds on his hands.

The child received the "whooping" from his father after fussing with another young child over a video game, and we are asked to accept this method of discipline and this level of injury as a cultural difference between black parents and white parents or between Southern parents and Northern parents, or between rural parents and urban parents, between parents of 40 years ago and parents of today or between rich parents and poor parents.

Take your pick.

"Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son," said Mr. Peterson's attorney. The unspoken caveat here is, "Don't tell me how to raise my kids." He added, "He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

Mr. Peterson, in his own statement, credited that discipline with keeping him out of trouble. "I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man," he said.

The team benched its top player for a game last Sunday, briefly reinstated him and then, in the wake of public criticism from fans, politicians and — wait for it — sponsors, suspended him until the matter is resolved. Mr. Peterson will still receive his reported $700,000 game checks.

The National Football League, which banished Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice the moment a video surfaced of him cold-cocking his then-fiancée, now wife, was silent in the face of pictures of the injuries Mr. Peterson inflicted on his son.

Apparently the league, which has trouble deciding how many game checks it will cost you for beating a woman — zero, two, six, or all of them forever — needs time to decide what to do when a player beats a child.

And that's what it was. This wasn't discipline, it was a beating. We have the powerful visuals as proof. And we have the child's statement to police that "Daddy Peterson" punched him in the face and stuffed the leaves from the tree switch he used against him into his mouth.

(In addition, Mr. Peterson was investigated a year ago after another 4-year-old son by a different woman sustained a head wound when he banged his head on a car seat during a disciplinary session with his father. No charges were filed, but Mr. Peterson said in a text message to the child's mother that if he had just sat still and taken his "whooping," he wouldn't have gotten hurt.)

National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said that if parents where charged with abuse every time they took a switch to a child's backside, there wouldn't be enough room in the jails in the South.

"Whipping — we do that all the time," said Mr. Barkley, who grew up in Alabama. "Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances."

Former Maryland and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and a CBS Sports announcer Boomer Esiason, who is white and was raised in a suburb in New York, said he didn't give a damn where Mr. Peterson grew up or how he was raised, he should be suspended for the season.

Former Viking Cris Carter, who is black and grew up in Ohio, admitted in his own emotional on-air response that his mother — single and with seven children — beat him, too. She did the best she could, he said, but he had made a promise to his own children to do better.

Parents can argue, if they wish, that a smack on the hand or a swat on the butt is one way to get a child's attention. But I refuse to accept that the kind of tarring Mr. Peterson admitted giving his son — he said he did it with love — is some kind of cultural expression of parental initiative that deserves the respectful restraint of our collective judgment.

As was the case with the Ray Rice video, an ugly and complex side of family life is in full view, under bright, stadium lights. The tragic difference is that Janay Rice could choose to escape her abuser, could find the words to tell her story and bring the authorities to her side.

That little boy could do none of those things.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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