The indictment of Minnesota Vikings football player Adrian Peterson on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child over the weekend led NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to make a rather bold (and broad) cultural pronouncement. “Whipping — we do that all the time,” Charles Barkley said yesterday on CBS. “Every black parent in the south is going to be in jail under those circumstances … We spank kids in the south.” While I agreed with the NBA Hall of Famer, I’m also grateful that times have changed.
Peterson is accused of beating his 4-year-old son with a “switch.” That’s a tree branch denuded of its leaves and then used to “light the hind parts” of a disobeying youngin’. Peterson’s son got his hind parts lit after he reportedly pushed another Peterson son off a video game. Being beaten with a switch was one of the ways I was held accountable by relatives from New York to North Carolina for defying or ignoring various and sundry adult admonitions. How said punishment was meted out varied depending on the offense and on the relative.
One might march out into the yard and get one herself. Another might make me get my own. If it didn’t look like it was up to the job, I was guaranteed to face a bigger switch chosen by the already angry adult. If they really wanted to scare you straight (as it were) they’d shuck the branch of its leaves and “test” it by making it whistle by whipping it in the air. Totally sadistic, but it guaranteed that I wouldn’t do whatever it was that found me in that position again.
The alleged Peterson beating took place months ago in Texas. But, according to the Star Tribune, when the child was taken to a doctor’s appointment back in Minnesota, child welfare authorities were called. The youngster had injuries to his legs, buttocks, back and scrotum. You can’t help but wince reading this. I also can envision the boy receiving those injuries by doing exactly what I did: trying to dodge the switch like Neo in The Matrix — and failing to not get hit.
But this is as far as my understanding of the Peterson situation goes. Other details in the case reported by the Star Tribune take it scarily beyond anything I ever experienced.
… according to police reports, … Peterson’s son told authorities that his father had pulled his pants down and put leaves in his mouth when hitting him.
The boy also told authorities that “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face” and expressed concern that Peterson would punch him in the face if he reported what happened, the station reported. The child also reportedly told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”
Leaves in the child’s mouth? Threat to punch him in the face if he told anyone? There’s a whooping room? This feels like it goes beyond the “this hurts me more than it hurts you” some folks are fond of saying. This is some twisted stuff that is doing the NFL no favors as it tries to get a handle on the domestic violence debacle involving Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens.
In a statement released as I was writing this post, Peterson said he “want[ed] everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child.” He added, “I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen.” And Peterson said that he “understand[s] after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.”
I get where Peterson and Barkley were coming from when they cited their upbringing to explain why Peterson beat his child with a switch. But some family traditions are best left behind. It’s good that Peterson appears to recognize that now.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj