This preschooler wasn’t paddled or, as Peterson put it to police, “swatted”; he was whipped with a stick and left with open wounds on his body. It’s also not obvious that Peterson has been at all straightforward. (This is something a jury or judge will work out.) In his statement, Peterson said, “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.” This is apparently a reference to the specific wound to the child’s scrotum and a particularly ugly one to the leg. (In another text message, he told the boy’s mother the same thing, adding, “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed!” He also wrote that she would probably get “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”) Peterson claimed to the police that he hadn’t noticed that the “tip of the switch and the ridges of the switch were wrapping around” the boy’s thigh.
Amanda Hess, who strongly disapproves of such punishments, notes:
Reactions from around the NFL imply that “love” is a valid reason for beating a child. “I got a ass whippn at 5 with a switch that’s lasted about 40mins and couldn’t sit for 2days. It’s was all love though,” Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett tweeted in Peterson’s defense. Added New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram Jr.: “When I was kid I got so many whoopins I can’t even count! I love both my parents they just wanted me to be the best human possible!”
Khadijah Costley White asks for less emphasis on race:
[I]f you think the media coverage of men like Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson make black people look bad, then just think what it looks like when you defend and justify their abuse. …
More than 1,500 children died from abuse and neglect in 2012 alone, most of them younger than four. So, all of those folks upholding Peterson as a symbol of black male oppression or denigration need to take a step back. The bruises on that little boy’s body are not symbolic. His fear and trauma are not due to some grand media conspiracy. And hiding and rationalizing violence against weak and helpless people represents the very worst of humankind.
Louis CK says that better than anyone:
Jazz Shaw defends Peterson, with some limits:
Assuming that Peterson is sincere in his recognition of having taken the punishment with the switch too far and has learned from the experience, perhaps he and his son can move forward with the understanding that improper behavior will still bring a punishment, but it will be scaled to a reasonable degree. Absent more evidence, it doesn’t seem to be our place – at least in my opinion – to deem him an unfit parent or to lock him up and throw away the key. (Though some reasonable degree of punishment for the father may still be in order. That’s for a court to decide.)
We should note, however, that another report has surfaced at Deadspin claiming that he causes a facial scar on a different son. You may assign whatever level of credibility to Deadspin that you wish, but some other sources are picking it up as well. If this turns out to be a recurring situation, the picture changes.
Regardless, Jonathan Cohn thinks the NFL is going to have to pay. He suggests “setting up a foundation whose mission was to fund domestic violence research and services”:
League owners could pay into the fund, at first with a one-time endowment gift and subsequently with ongoing contributions. In the future, when players commit acts of domestic violence and serve suspensions, the wages they relinquish could supplement the funds.
Will Saletan was hit by teachers as a kid:
Corporal punishment teaches itself. Peterson thought he was teaching the opposite. According to reports, he was punishing his son for pushing and scratching another child. He says he explained this to the boy. “Anytime I spank my kids, I talk to them before, let them know what they did, and of course after,” he told investigators.
But when you hit a child for hitting another child, the hitting does all the talking. That’s the upshot of a recent study of more than 100 children and their parents. Every parent who approved of spanking a child for hitting a sibling passed this belief on to their kids. And 79 percent of kids who came from homes with lots of spanking said they’d hit a sibling for trying to watch a different TV show—almost the same scenario that led to Peterson’s beating of his son. According to the researchers, “Not one child from a no-spanking home chose to resolve these conflicts by hitting.” The kids absorbed the model, not the lecture.
Zooming out, Freddie questions the left’s response to abuse cases:
The recent scandals involving NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, for me, have revealed again this central contradiction in contemporary left-of-center thought. We have broad consensus on the left wing that we imprison too many people in America and that our police forces, in general, are overly aggressive and overly protected from punishment when they are guilty of abuse or corruption. And yet there’s also a constant impatience with any advocacy of due process, the presumption of innocence, or rights of the accused. I encounter this personally most when I am looking at Facebook or comments on websites like Gawker. People that I know to be self-identified as left-wing, or online groups that tend to be left-wing like the commenters at Gawker, are nonetheless convinced that every celebrity defendant is guilty, before the process has been given the chance to play out. Yet that due process is one of the only checks we have against the aggressive policing that, after Ferguson, we are trying to fix.
Update from a reader:
Whatever the merits of Freddie’s comments in other contexts, it’s hard to see why the presumption of innocence, due process, and “innocent until proven guilty” have much application to Rice and Peterson. For one thing, Rice has apparently escaped prosecution through the diversion program; for another, the existence of the tape, coupled with his admissions, leaves very little doubt indeed about what actually happened.
Peterson hasn’t escaped prosecution yet, but there’s still not much reason to withhold judgment as to the facts of what happened: between his own statements, the text messages, and the photos (the authenticity of which has not, as far as I know, been challenged).
So aside from a reflexive need to attack the “left,” it’s not clear that these two situations have any relevance at all to his professed concern about “aggressive policing,” or Ferguson either. If Freddie wants to complain about the left’s supposed tendency to assume that every celebrity is guilty “before the process has been given the chance to play out,” perhaps he should find better examples?