In a Bleacher Report profile published last Wednesday, Washington Football Team (nope, not gonna say it) running back Adrian Peterson, who was famously penalized by the NFL for beating his child with a switch, admitted that he still hits his son with a belt. Peterson, who, at 33-years-old, has made an unexpected comeback this year, was indicted in 2014 for reckless or negligent injury to a child in Texas court. This occurred shortly after his 2-year-old son Tyrese Robert Ruffin was beaten to death by Joseph Patterson. The press swarmed. Peterson was lambasted by many and lauded by some.
Apparently, none of it altered his approach to disciplining his son. “I didn’t let that change me,” he told Bleacher Report’s Master Tesfatsion. He added that “9 times out of 10,” using a switch wasn’t a consideration, leaving the door wide open for extreme corporal punishment. The choice of words seemed particularly pointed given how easy it would have been for Peterson, who lost almost all of his endorsements in 2014 but now rocks Adidas (which has yet to abandon him), to stick to a lucrative mea culpa.
It’s worth noting the details of the indictment that caused Peterson to face NFL discipline for domestic violence and sit out six games with the Vikings. The abuse came to light after a doctor reported injuries Peterson’s 4-year-old son sustained from being beaten with a switch — essentially a thin flexible branch used like a whip. Those injuries included cuts and bruising to the child’s back, bottom, legs, and scrotum. After voluntarily telling his side of the story in front of a Grand Jury, Peterson pled no contest to avoid felony charges. He only paid a $4,000 fine and did 80 hours of community service, but the incident cost him millions and his good guy reputation.
Here’s the thing: It was once easy to say that Peterson’s approach to discipline was likely a holdover from his own childhood experiences — that he deserved a break because he was the product of a specific environment. This reading of the Peterson debacle made a lot of sense to a lot of people because numbers indicate that black parents and southern parents are more likely than others to engage in corporal punishments. Adrian Peterson is a black man from the south. He was engaged in behavior he’d seen modeled.
But Peterson had the error of his ways pointed out in no uncertain terms and he was apparently too convinced of the virtues of violence to change. He lacked the dedication to find a better way. There’s no generous way to read that. Peterson’s continued openness to assault as a parenting strategy is entirely on him. There’s no means of excusing it. He’s not a good guy.
Sure, Peterson notes in the Bleacher Report interview that spanking with a belt is only part of a larger toolbox of discipline for his six kids. When they misbehave he also resorts to techniques that range from wall sits to taking away their phones. But he doesn’t talk about communicating or about his own introspection. He comes across as uninterested in the wellbeing of his children. It’s an upsetting read.
And make no mistake, healthy discipline is complicated and hard, requiring parents to remain calm and avoid anger. That said, there’s a big difference between slipping up and yelling every once in a while and taking off a belt to hit a child with it.
By giving Peterson a misdemeanor, a fine and shaming him in the public eye, the U.S. Government ostensibly tried to adjust the running back’s behavior. Apparently, that didn’t work. So, why aren’t his kids being taken away? Simple answer: That would be worse.
“I’d die for my kids,” Peterson told Bleacher Report. And there’s no reason not to take him at his word. Peterson’s miserable parenting decisions are not indicative of a lack of affection for his children. They are, however, indicative of an extraordinary lack of dedication and motivation to change and do right by his kids. It’s clear Peterson does have drive. He’s dedicated to his training. He’s motivated to keep himself healthy for the game. But not working on his parenting skills is bush-league behavior. Not reading up on better ways to discipline is taking the easy way. Making the same mistake twice shows no desire to progress.
The ramifications are also real. Physical assault of children affects outcomes, leading to problems like depression, drug use, defiance and increased risk of suicide and criminal activity.
But in order for men like Peterson to change, we have to let them. It’s easy to leer in disgust and hard to educate. So let the takeaway from this be twofold: Adrian Peterson did wrong, yes, but he can also do better. Of course he can. He just has to want to do better and someone just has to ask. So, here goes:
Adrian, please understand that hitting your kid is harmful. Look at the research. Ask a pediatrician. And then just try a new way. Put in the sweat. Put in the hard hours. Give parenting the same extraordinary effort you give football. And if that doesn’t change your mind about corporal punishment, then there’s nothing anyone can do for you and your kids. But if it does change your view — and it likely will — please keep up the work and provide your kids with a new, better example.
You a reporter that you have “accomplished some great stuff and plan to continue accomplishing great stuff.” Make this one of the great things you accomplish.