On Adrian Peterson, spanking, fatherhood and more

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     A member of the Minneapolis police department walks past a photo of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson before the start of the Vikings/Patriots on Sunday. Peterson was indicted in Texas on Friday for using a branch to spank one of his sons. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

    A member of the Minneapolis police department walks past a photo of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson before the start of the Vikings/Patriots on Sunday. Peterson was indicted in Texas on Friday for using a branch to spank one of his sons. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

    I have used corporal punishment, but when I did so, I never wanted to see fear in my children’s eyes. Nor did I want to see apprehension or hurt.

    There have been times when I’ve disciplined my children and seen those emotions. I never want to see them again. I love my children too much.

    Just as I am wrestling with the issue of spanking, America is struggling with it, as well. 

    Though researchers in the Cambridge Journal of Development and Psychopathology say spanking is widely used in America, the vast majority of researchers say that spanking yields negative psychological effects in children.

    One study, for example, says children who are spanked displayed more aggressive behavior toward kindergarten peers. Other studies say that spanking affects the brain mass of children.

    Peterson case specifics

    I don’t know if those studies are accurate, but I do know this:

    The practice of spanking is front and center in the wake of the indictment and arrest of NFL star running back Adrian Peterson.

    He was accused of hitting his 4-year-old son with a thin tree branch, commonly known as a “switch.” The boy suffered cuts and bruises to his back, legs and buttocks.

    As a result, Peterson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was booked and released after posting the $15,000 bond, but now his future hangs in the balance.

    In an atmosphere in which a rash of NFL players have been accused in cases of domestic violence, Peterson, who was deactivated for the Minnesota Vikings loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, stands to lose not only his employment and endorsements with companies such as Nike. He also stands to lose his freedom.

    At a recent news conference, Montgomery County, Texas, first assistant district attorney Phil Grant said Peterson could face up to two years in state jail, as well as a $10,000 fine. Grant said probation is also an option for defendants with no prior criminal record.

    That is the law, and if it is imposed equally across the board, we should abide by that law.

    However, there is an underlying truth that has not been spoken regarding the use of corporal punishment in America, specifically where African Americans are concerned.

    Cultural reflections

    The very violence that was used to subjugate and enslave African Americans is now frowned upon, which is a positive development.

    Still, it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that American society was built on that violence, benefited from that violence, and continues to prosper as a result of that violence.

    And yet when a black parent uses a switch — a microcosm of the whips that were used against slaves — he is portrayed as a monster who must be punished.

    The hypocrisy here is obvious. We can’t be in favor of violence when it benefits us, and against violence when it doesn’t. We can’t endorse whipping when it enriches, and frown upon it when it doesn’t.

    His circumstances

    I don’t know if Adrian Peterson is a monster, but I do know that the man is a father.

    He is a father who already lost a son last October. The 2-year-old boy, who was allegedly assaulted by a man who was dating the boy’s mother, died as a result of his injuries. Peterson learned only two months earlier that he was the boy’s father.

    This additional tragedy, which by all accounts was brought on by Peterson himself, is horrific, and while Peterson must face the circumstances of his actions, those circumstances should be fair and measured. 

    Peterson says he loves his son, and would never intentionally cause him harm. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that if the criminal justice system truly wants to protect the boy, then it must do right by his father.

    Unfortunately for Adrian Peterson, our criminal justice system tends to do the opposite where African Americans are concerned. Blacks are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and likely to be punished more harshly than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.

    If that is the case for Adrian Peterson, then his son will have been twice beaten. Once by a father who says he loves him, and again by a system who took that father away.

    Listen to Solomon Jones from 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays on 900AM-WURD.

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