Did you know that Wyoming is one of only 19 states permitting physical abuse of children if it is what the law calls “reasonable”? Until recently, the National Football League permitted it even when unreasonable.
If you’re a “baby-boomer” there is a strong likelihood that as a youngster you were subjected to corporal punishment. It was commonplace in the 50s to discipline children harshly. My father used a belt. My grandmother used a bicycle tire inner-tube. Some of my teachers and principals used wooden paddles leaving welts and bruises.
Once my brother Bob and I were caught playing with matches. My father taught us not to play with fire in the manner in which his father had taught him the same lesson. He lit a match and burned our fingers.
Back then, that sort of discipline was the community norm. But by the time we became parents the community norm had changed. Somehow Adrian Peterson never got the memo.
Peterson’s lawyer says his client is a “loving father.” Peterson was simply using the same parenting techniques that he once “experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”
In his own defense, the star NFL running back says, “I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son.”
Parenting skills? Peterson allegedly beat his four-year-old child with part of a tree branch as punishment for misbehaving in May. The child was left with cuts and bruises on his back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum.
Ironic isn’t it that Peterson was hitting his son because his son had “pushed” a sibling in a child-dispute over a video game. He was teaching his child not to push by beating him.
Peterson then allegedly texted the boy’s mother, saying that one wound in particular would make her “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.” He called the four-year-old, "… toughest of the bunch," Peterson wrote. "He got about five more pops than normal. He didn't drop one tear!” Shameful.
At least Peterson wasn’t influenced by the Old Testament where it says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.”
Nonetheless, Peterson’s “parenting skills” actually go far back in history. Discipline was quite severe in ancient Greece when children were often beaten. In 16th century England, boys were hit on their bare buttocks and legs with the birch twigs. Beating children was normal into the 20th century, although in the 19th century the cane generally replaced the birch.
But several decades ago, the cultural norm changed. Mature adults spared the rod, finding other ways of not spoiling the child. We found that physical abuse might be a form of punishment but had little disciplinary value. How did someone who went to college at the University of Oklahoma miss that memo?
Adrian Peterson has been living under a rock. He crawled out to find that while he slept, the community decided that beating children to the point of breaking skin and leaving bruises isn’t merely a “whoopin” as Peterson called his assault. It’s child abuse. People who do it lose respect and sometimes their jobs and freedom.
Maybe Peterson, fellow athletes, and authorities like the NFL have at long last gotten the message. Real men may play football but they don’t beat their children, wives, and lovers. It is unacceptable in a civilized society no matter how many touchdowns you score on Sunday.