What About the NFL, and Other Professional Sports Organizations, that Turn a Blind Eye to Domestic Abuse?
I am sharing my thoughts here, and would love to hear yours, as well. Let’s make this an open conversation with the hope that more enlightened attitudes can emerge from it. I know I still have a lot to learn in life, and I trust you feel the same.
Somewhere in Eden Prairie, a 4-year-old boy is healing from the physical wounds his father inflicted on him with a switch (small tree branch) because he got into a disagreement with his brother over a video game. Lacerations on his hand and thighs, and bruises on his lower back and buttocks resulted in a felony child abuse charge in Texas. According to the Forbes.com article by Gregory McNeal, texts from Adrian Peterson to the boy’s mother included:
- “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”
- “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”The child said, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.”
- The child expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities.
- The child said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.”
- The child said that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down.
- The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”
- Peterson, admitted to the police that he had “whooped” his son on the backside with a switch as a form of punishment.
- Peterson also admitted to the police that he administered two different “whoopings” to his son.So here we are, some of us loyal fans of professional sports, wondering if this constitutes child abuse and what to do about it. And we are also contemplating whether AP should ever be allowed back on the field. Will this be one of those “fans have short memories” incidents where all is forgotten within a few months when the hype dies down? Or should we all stand up and insist that a loud message be delivered on behalf of innocent four-year-olds? You probably know already what I’m going to say … that of course child abuse needs to be counteracted with stern and swift consequences.But there’s a deeper issue here. What gives the men of the NFL the mindset that because they are bigger and stronger than their children, they have the right to physically harm them as a form of discipline? I’ve read the “We are African American, and this is how we manage our children’s behavior” argument, as well. I also understand that police profiling of African Americans and other people of color is a real issue, and could lie beneath the parenting perspective that we need to keep our children “respectful and under control” to keep the police from harming them. But this argument doesn’t stand up, given that one in three young African American males is incarcerated in this country. Racial profiling is a real-world issue that still needs addressing by police departments in every U.S. city.According to J.E.B. Myers in his article “The History of Child Protection in America” the first recorded societal effort to rescue a child from parental abuse was by Etta Wheeler in 1874. U.S. governmental child protection policies and laws were created in 1962. Adrian Peterson was born in 1985. There has been plenty of time for Adrian Peterson and his professional sports counterparts to catch on to the fact that children are protected by law from physical and emotional abuse by adults. But of course, being a product of the enormous hype in professional sports can easily give one the idea that the law is for other people, not you.So what have we learned with the discussion around this incident? Have we learned that hurting children is never, ever, ever justified? I hope so. Have we learned not to revere our sports heroes so much that we consider them above the law? I hope so again. Because the children are watching to see who we consider our heroes, and they’re following our example. We need to be strong for them, and draw the line on child and spousal abuse. We need to make a big point to them that it’s never all right to harm another human for any reason, no matter how angry we get, no matter how much they provoke us, no matter what.
Here’s what I have learned: We have a long way to go in the field of coaching parents. We need to include all races and creeds in the mindset that there’s a much, much better way to get good behavior from your child than physical force. We need to assure that the hearts of children can make it through the formative years without abject fear of their parents’ undeserved wrath. Because when a child grows up in fear, as the 4-year-old son of Adrian Peterson has been forced to do, he sees the world as a scary place. His brain structure and function are indelibly altered by trauma. He defends himself, sometimes more than the situation calls for, and he lands in prison with all the other abused children of the world. This is a terrible waste of human potential and we know how to fix it. With this story so widely distributed in the media, my hope is that this is our chance for a huge step forward on healing adult-child relationships, so children can grow up and become healthy parents.
I am calling for the NFL, NBA, NHL and others to use this opportunity to support parents in the compassionate handling of their children. I propose a full-on anti-child-abuse effort, funded by major sports, to not only educate parents, but to provide ongoing services to them so that they can feel supported over time. We need to remember Maya Angelou’s words: “When we know better, we must do better.”
Parents, there’s a better way. Physical wounds heal in a few months, but emotional scars last for decades, and can have hugely damaging effects on children over their lifetimes. Please, for the sake of your children, find a parent coach to teach you the better way before we see another case like this in the news, before one more child is scarred for life by a parent who thought he or she was doing the right thing. Pick up the phone now.