BY CLINTON PAWLICK
If you want change, start with the big money. It works. Ask the Minnesota Vikings.
After sponsors reacted unfavorably to the team’s reinstatement of Adrian Peterson, a star running back, who faces child-abuse charges in Texas, the Vikings placed Peterson on an “exempt” list. This bars him from playing football for the team and brings into focus a topic that has been building for weeks: What do we expect of NFL players in terms of off-the-field behavior?
Until recently, I had thought of Adrian Peterson only in terms of what he is, an extremely talented athlete, who consistently leads the league in rushing. After learning of his recent troubles, I now consider who he is.
By now, a chapter of his story is well-known. Peterson struck his 4-year old child with a wooden switch, a thin, pliable tree branch, after that child misbehaved. This punishment method, apparently common in the South, was the same Peterson had received growing up. USA Today reported this week that Peterson’s father relied on corporal punishment as an approach to discipline. According to that report, Nelson Peterson went so far as to strike Adrian Peterson repeatedly with a belt in the parking lot of his middle school after receiving a call about his son’s disruptive behavior.
Portions of the country might gasp. But I don’t think many are shocked in Texas, where Peterson grew up. In that state, corporal punishment is allowed in schools, though its actual use is declining.
When I was a kid, it was prevalent. One time, also in middle school, I received “pops” or “swats” from a football coach, who didn’t know what to do with a basketball player in that sport’s off-season. When I refused to launder dirty practice uniforms for the football team, he could think of only one response — a spanking. That same school district of my youth has since changed its policy.
I can imagine Adrian Peterson confused by the predicament in which he finds himself. He is at the epicenter of a controversy, and the earth is shaking where, perhaps, he expected solid ground. The thing is, people are used to what they know. We are shaped by our own experiences.
A friend of mine in Atlanta tells me that his city is buzzing with response to the scandal. How can Adrian Peterson be a villain? Doctors and lawyers and business professionals are giving testimony through social media of the putative merits of a good whipping. They look on their own history with nostalgic eyes. Didn’t physical punishment contribute to their own success? Didn’t it make them who they are?
I remain skeptical. If we want a thoughtful populace, we should give thought to how we treat people. Can we reasonably expect our sports heroes to be admirable ambassadors in the rest-of-week world when we don’t show them what that means?
Change starts with an investment. Whether it’s time, energy, or money, you often get out what you put in. Sometimes, you get more. I’d rather we address bad behavior with considered thought — mind instead of muscle. By creating an incentive to think, we encourage positive change.
And isn’t that exactly what we need?
Clinton Pawlick and his wife, Jen, live in North Seattle. They love the Seahawks, good friends, Washington reds, and their two cats, Malcolm and Ink Pot Pie.
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