My Moonlighting column in MidWeek, posted on Sept. 24, 2014.
A BEATING IS NOT A SPANKING
I looked at the pictures of the bruises, welts and cuts on a little boy’s legs and felt sick. This was done in the name of love, the father said in all sincerity. It was how he was disciplined as a child, he said, and was why he was so successful. Tough love molded him into the man he is today.
That man, Adrian Peterson, is a celebrated athlete. He is also a 6-foot-1, 217-pound man who takes a switch to his 4-year-old son and leaves cuts and bruises on the tiny boy’s legs, buttocks and scrotum. The pictures I saw were taken four days after the beating and the injuries still looked bad — red and painful.
Is this love? If it is, we need to change the way that love is expressed.
I’ve seen and heard too many people say things like, “But that’s how I was disciplined as a kid, and I turned out all right.”
“My parents spanked me, so what?”
“What he does to his own kids is his business, as long as his intentions are good.”
First of all, this wasn’t a spanking. I don’t endorse spanking, as I think there are better, more effective ways of disciplining and teaching young minds. And although I disagree with it, a spanking is not child abuse.
But what Peterson did, I do believe, was child abuse. You wouldn’t call kicking a child or slapping or punching a child in the face a spanking. Why would you call pulling down a child’s pants and beating his exposed skin with a wood stick a spanking?
A spanking is open hand on clothed buttocks, period. It may leave the area a bit red, but it does not leave welts and cuts. People and news organizations should stop calling it a spanking.
What happened here was a beating. I have no doubt Peterson believes the “whoopings” he received as a child molded him, but perhaps not in the way he thinks. They are not the reason for his success. After all, there are many, many excellent athletes who achieved success — even in the rough and tumble game of football — without the “benefit” of childhood corporal punishment.
What the “whoopings” did to Peterson, apparently, was convince him that it is OK and even desirable to be the kind of father who beats his own kids in the name of love.
And for those who argue that their parents did it, I say, so what?
My parents smoked like chimneys. Most of us nowadays wouldn’t dream of smoking while pregnant or around babies or kids. And people nowadays don’t drink when they’re pregnant, even though their moms did. We’ve learned that these are behaviors that are harmful to children.
Our grandparents may have thought racism was OK, and homo-phobia, too. Domestic violence was swept under the rug.
But the world has changed, is changing, and so are these attitudes. At the very least, they no longer are tolerated openly in much, if not most, of society.
The world turns. People and societies evolve. Some evolve more slowly than others (NFL, I’m looking at you), but it is inevitable.
Although I think Peterson should be prosecuted for child abuse, I don’t hate him or condemn him. If he’s as good a person as his friends think he is, and as he believes himself to be, then there is hope he can understand where and why he went wrong.
He’s young. He can learn. He can change. He can evolve.
And maybe, someday, he can use what he’s learned to break the cycle of violence in his own family, change the attitudes of others, and help further the evolution of those who remain mired in old, tired and harmful beliefs.