“I’m ready!” My kindergartener roared and charged into the living room. He jumped onto a chair and flexed all of his 52 pounds. He’d gotten dressed for school and chosen the shirt that turns him superhuman. It isn’t screened with a likeness of Superman or The Hulk, or any other comic book hero. He’d donned his favorite top, a purple jersey with the number 28 in big block letters. Across the back the name Peterson.
“Umm,” I searched for words. I wasn’t going to tell him to put it back. “Are you sure you want to wear that today?” We’d had ‘the talk’ over the weekend, the one where I tell him that his hero, our hero, has been arrested. That the two-hundred-twenty pound stack of muscles had hurt his four-year-old son. “Two-Eight (that’s what he’s called around our house) did a bad thing, so he isn’t going to be playing football for a while.” I asked my son several times if he wanted to talk about it, but each question was met with silence. Now, the thought that the good guys might not be the good guys was hitting home. He hopped down from the chair and ran back to his room.
I’m not going to ascend any soapbox (mainly because I have no idea what a soapbox is). Doing so would be hipocritical. I’ve spanked my children. Not regularly, and not with a tree branch, and nowhere near the point of breaking the skin, but I’ve done it. I don’t see anything wrong with an ocassional slap on the bottom and a bit of soreness to get a point across.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in public schools, and most parents feel it is an acceptable and effective means of disciplining a child. The Adrian Peterson case is not about whether it’s okay to spank kids. This case is about a beast of a man who whipped a young child’s bare skin as many as 15 times woth a switch and caused injuries that were severe enough a week later to spur action. It is about child abuse.
Here is the problem. If administering the act is okay, but administering too much of it is a crime, punishable by loss of job, money, freedom, and kids wearing your jersey, where is the line? Who gets to decide? I imagine a twisted Seinfeld episode where the gang spends half-an-hour debating whether an act is abusive or not. The line, in this case, is clear. In fact, if you’ve seen the pictures of Peterson’s son, all 15 of the lines are clear.
I’ve been a Vikings fan for more than twenty years, another habit I learned from my brother. My earliest dream was to be an NFL running back (and had I been bigger, faster, and more talented, that dream might’ve come true). Ever since my team drafted the best back on earth in 2007, I’ve been a huge Peterson fan.
I was in Minneapolis with my dad and brother for 2-8’s lone playoff win, a 2010 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys, by far the highlight of a lifetime as a sports fan. Standing inside the dome amid a writhing sea of purple and feeling the vibrations of 64,000 kindred souls was intoxicating. The following Sunday, when the Vikes came within a whisker of getting to the Super Bowl before choking, was the lowlight. Until this past weekend.
The hollow feeling in my gut as the news registered remained into Monday morning, when I walked in my classroom and was greeted by the Peterson “Read” poster that has hung on my wall for years. Another decision.
My father-in-law had texted me that morning with: “U r afforded a teaching moment with ur class. Speak out. Who knows. Maybe u have a kid suffering abuse or has a mom that is a victim of spousal abuse. A kid may come forward if not with u perhaps with some other authority.” I went straight to the poster and ripped it down. As each class entered that day, the first thing I did was explain that it is not okay for a parent to injure a child in the name of discipline. These kids don’t have much interest in learning about the Constitution, but they heard every word about how I can no longer cheer for 2-8.
I can’t say if I’ll one day cheer for Peterson again. It depends, I suppose, on what he does from here on out. I’m far from satisfied with his apology, and I don’t want to see him on the field anytime soon. He’s getting his $14 million salary regardless, so he can start by donating a chunk of that to shelters for abused women and children.
As for my son, he returned from his room moments later wearing a Batman shirt. Now there’s a hero, not a guy running up and down a field before adoring fans for big bucks, but a guy running in the shadows at night to rid his city of evil and keep the citizens safe for nothing in return. With two-eight out of football for a while, let’s send him out in a batsuit. Let him beat on some guys who deserve it.