Keep that on the field.

Off the Bench, Adrian Peterson Stands Up for Abuse

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
Read More.
a | A

Since the news of Adrian Peterson's indictment for beating his son came down late Friday afternoon, people have been clamoring to figure out where the line is in disciplining a child and how the NFL will react amid heightened post-Ray Rice scrutiny. The Minnesota Vikings took a necessary step by not waiting for league action, deactivating Peterson for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots.

That didn't last long.

The Vikings announced Monday that Peterson would suit up for this weekend's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, leaving the rest of us to wonder what the second miracle will be.

It seems the team is taking the NFL's cues in hiding behind the criminal justice system, stating it will "allow the legal system to proceed" before levying any further punishment. I can understand waiting to see how this plays out in the courts to determine final judgment, but given the photos of the boy's injuries and Peterson's acknowledgment that he caused them, he shouldn't be allowed onto a football field in the interim.

For that, you can partly thank the New England Patriots, who made the Vikings look like a Pop Warner squad in Peterson's absence. One of the biggest questions in the last few days was how the team and league would penalize arguably the best player in the NFL, one who plays a dominant role in driving the $70 billion fantasy football market. It seems the answer was to discipline him for one non-conference game that was probably unwinnable anyway and reinstate him against a more vulnerable team.

In other words, "discipline" is a fine concept for a four-year-old boy, but not so much for a 29-year-old man who helps you win football games.

Those who are discussing the social politics of spanking are completely missing the point. Forget that corporal punishment isn't just an issue of parental choice, that 19 states still allow schools to give students the paddle. Forget that countless reports show that physical discipline isn't just ineffective compared to other forms of punishment, that fear is less of a long-term deterrent than understanding why what you did was wrong. Forget that spanking is linked to changes in brain chemistry, lowering of IQ, and early puberty. Forget that children who are hit are more likely to become bullies in adolescence, have aggression issues as adults, and then turn around and hit their own kids later on. Forget all the spurious arguments that Peterson and defenders such as Charles Barkley are tossing in -- race and regionalism and cultural differences and "Well, our parents did it, and we turned out just fine!" -- to justify raising a hand to a child.

Focus on one fact: By any reasonable definition, this was not a spanking. The evidence shows this was a full-on beating, of a four-year-old boy, by a father whose job is to withstand brutal hits, who actually lost another son last year at the hands of an abusive man, who should have known better. But Peterson didn't just acknowledge the "whooping" he gave his son with a tree branch; he admitted he didn't think he did anything wrong.

"I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent," he said, adding that he wouldn't "eliminate whooping my kids ... because I know how being spanked has helped me in my life."

NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter addressed this flawed line of thinking in an impassioned response to Peterson's situation before Sunday's kickoff. He noted that his mother "did the best job she could do" raising him and his six siblings by herself, but that "there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong." That's the cautionary tale of Adrian Peterson: The inability to see outside our own experience, to critically evaluate lessons passed down to us from our parents, dooms us to repeat their mistakes when we have children. In refusing to re-think his use of the switch, Peterson demonstrated the unmitigated hubris that prevents him from questioning a parenting process whose perfect result was himself.

As such, Carter's speech also highlighted why the Vikings' initial decision to deactivate Peterson was so crucial. "As a man, that's the only thing we really respect," he said. "We don't respect no women. We don't respect no kids. The only thing Roger [Goodell] and them can do: Take them off the field, because they respect that."

After the events of the past month, we shouldn't be surprised just how low on football's priority list respect lies.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A Davidson at

To contact the editor on this story:
Toby Harshaw at