Let’s Be Clear: This is Child Abuse!

My wish for the above picture of Adrian Peterson is that it could have been a mug shot taken as he was arrested and locked up for child abuse. For those unaware, the All Pro running back for the Minnesota Vikings is involved in allegations of child abuse as pictures of his 4 year old son were released showing the aftermath of a discipline session in which Peterson whipped his son with a branch or “switch” so severely that he left open soars and bruises all over his body. The following pictures are graphic and I only include them to give context to my emotions on this subject.

I wish this narrative was rare or even surprising but as we have seen in the news recently, especially with the Ray Rice issue, all too often professional athletes engage in behaviour that is wrong. The surprise we have about these occurrences I suppose says more about the fact that we tend to equate athletic ability with some sort of moral compass. These incidents should remind us that this is a dangerous mistake to make, especially when we tend to espouse athletes and celebrities as role models for our children.

My disgust and sheer head scratching astonishment this week though is not reserved for Adrian Peterson. It is reserved for the reaction that this incident has had about the situation. I regularly listen to sports radio in the car, most specifically the FAN 590 and Monday morning I actually found myself yelling at the radio listening to this segment of the Brady and Walker show. The segment is long but if you skip ahead to around the 19 minute mark you will hear Andrew Walker saying that he has a hard time comparing Adrian Peterson to Ray Rice because the “line is blurred about how to discipline your kids” but not so much with spousal abuse. This is easily the stupidest thing I have heard on the subject and the focus of my anger in the car the other morning.

Why are the lines blurred and why can we not make a direct comparison between Rice and Peterson. In fact I would say that Peterson is much worse than Rice. Rice hitting his fiance was disgusting and cowardly but that woman could have left that situation possibly. She could have made different choices about the type of man she decided to be with. Peterson’s son could not make any of those choices. Let me remind everyone that this child was 4 YEARS OLD!!! My youngest is 7 and I don’t allow myself to consider what I would feel like if I found him with those marks. I guess in a way I agree with the radio host when he says that he has a hard time comparing Rice and Peterson, because I think that Peterson is so much worse.

Then I hear Charles Barkley talking about his upbringing and how the lines are blurred for him as well.

I have heard this garbage a lot as well lately, saying that we cannot impose our ideas about child rearing on others and that we have to look at the cultural context of Peterson to understand his motivations for whipping his 4 year old. NO I DON’T!!! I don’t have to understand his context because he whipped his son!! He abused him and should be put in jail for that action. There is no context here. The argument about spanking is one thing and I will be the first to admit that I was spanked as a child but it was not this! It was a pat on the bum that really didn’t hurt as much as it scared me into understanding the seriousness of my parents’ message. This is not a case of going too far. This amount of abuse which shows evidence all over his body including upper and inner thigh, back, arms and hands involves anger and aggression. I get chills when I think about the crying and pleading that this 4 year old must have done while this torture was going on. This was not going over too far; this was sadistic and cruel.

Here is the thing about parenting as I see it. I knew, as I grew up that there were some pretty dangerous and awful things that could happen to me out in the world. As I grew aware of my surroundings I understood that not everyone was looking out for my best interests. But I also knew, without a sliver of doubt that when I came home, those fears were left at the door. I knew I had nothing to fear in my home because my parents had created this home for me. I respected my parents, but I never feared them and I am tired of this idea that the two are synonymous. I knew that they offered me unconditional love and a safe place to get away from the increasingly threatening world and if I did not have that place, I don’t know how I could have got through growing up.

This leads me back to our job in education. My disappointment when it comes to reaction of some people about Adrian Peterson has really caused me to pause and consider the role of school to our kids. If people are still “confused” about the line between child abuse and child rearing, then we have a lot of work to do in society but it means that our call to create safe and inclusive schools is all the more important. Our school theme this year is PEACE and I think it is all the more powerful this year because of what we have seen in the sports arena. I cannot imagine a single teacher I have ever met, (and there are some that I don’t have much professional respect for), seeing those pictures of this 4 year old victim and saying that they are fine with that. I guess the job comes with this very sensitive gag reflex when it comes to the safety of kids. We need to be vigilant about the communities that we create and as the principal of the school, I have to constantly strive to maintain a safe school at all costs. I have to do this because the public reaction to this situation shows me that perhaps school is the only place that these kids can feel safe.

This has been a sad and emotional start to the week for me, but I only hope I can use it to keep me focussed on my job.

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