Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rice, Peterson, And What Really Needs Honest Discussion

Recent weeks in the NFL have seen several players have serious run-ins with the laws, run-ins which have exposed some unpleasant truths about what it takes American society in general to face certain issues.

The case of Ray Rice exposed people to some unpleasant truths about domestic violence. The case of Adrian Peterson exposed people to some unpleasant truths about child abuse and how we should really engage in discipline of children.

There have been those who have wondered why the NFL has to be the organization to take the stand, those who have gotten defensive about how they discipline their children or how they were disciplined themselves, those who want to spend more time analyzing which NFL teams do or don't house troublemakers, and those who would just prefer everything go away so they can go back to enjoying football.

The truth is, the discussions we need to be having are about taking domestic violence more seriously than we do, and whether or not it's time we seriously question if certain means of disciplining a child are really that effective.

Let us start with domestic violence and face an unpleasant truth: The real reason why so many people got up in arms about Ray Rice's treatment of his now-wife Janay Palmer is that he was caught on tape. First came the tape of him dragging an unconscious Palmer from an elevator, which caused some people to put two and two together, while others said it didn't tell the whole story. Then came the second tape, and far more people were up in arms... and even then, some people just said "Ray Rice just made a mistake, that's all."

So let's go back in time to somebody else who "made a mistake" by getting involved in a domestic violence situation. Will Leitch will fill you on some of the details about a certain former NFL running back who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On September 8, 1989, "Late Night With David Letterman" hosted actress Shelley Winters -- promoting her PG-rated weeper "An Unremarkable Life" with Patricia Neal -- and NBC sportscaster O.J. Simpson. 


Eight months earlier, after a New Year's Eve party, Simpson and his wife Nicole Brown Simpson had an argument at their estate in Brentwood, and Nicole called the police. When they arrived, Brown emerged from the bushes screaming, "He's going to kill me! He's going to kill me!" You can get a full account of the incident, including an animation showing the police arrival and where Nicole was hiding from O.J., on one of the many Simpson-case-obsessed sites still floating around the Internet.

A major difference between O.J. Simpson and Ray Rice is that Simpson was never caught on video. One has to wonder how different things may have turned out if he had been caught in the act.

But he wasn't, and so, four months later, Simpson pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and got probation and community service.

We all know what eventually happened to Nicole Brown Simpson.

Now the reality check: This is what happens when we just brush off a domestic violence incident as "he just made a mistake." And, no, this does not mean we need to lock up these people and throw away the key.

What it means is we need to treat domestic violence cases as more than just something that gets just a brief line in the police blotter, unless it involves a public official or celebrity, or if it gets caught on video (or both). We can argue whether or not the NFL needs to be taking a leadership role, but we can't simply dismiss domestic violence as an argument that got out of control.

An open, honest discussion about what is available for victims, and what punishment and rehabilitation can best be utilized for perpetrators, and what counseling services should be available to those who worry they are about to become perpetrators, makes far more sense than simply chalking it up to just an honest mistake and getting over it.

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Like Rice's situation, the case of Adrian Peterson really hits home because photos of his four-year-old son's injuries were released, thus putting a child abuse case into a visual context. Combine that with Peterson being arguably the highest profile running back in the NFL and you had a story many paid attention to.

Along the way, the discussion has been raised about how our grandparents disciplined our parents, taking objects such as yardsticks and paddles and smacking them on the behinds... and how those grandparents surely would have ended up in jail. Which then leads to the worries that we're going to start shaming people into no longer spanking kids, painting the parents who did it as bad people, and continue to lead to the wussification of America.

For those of you up on the ledge, allow me to tell you a story.

My parents have kept dogs as pets long before I was born, but the first one they got as a puppy was before I was born. When they got another puppy, I was 13 years old. At the time, I was taught how the puppy was to be trained in, among other things, knowing what was and wasn't permissible. If the puppy did something wrong, swat it on the nose.

Many years later, long after I had moved on, my parents welcomed more dogs into the household. These dogs were not swatted on the nose every time, though. My parents had learned about different ways to teach the dogs right from wrong that didn't involving swatting the animal.

So this begs the question: If somebody can determine that there are better ways to discipline a dog than just swatting it, why can't the same be said for disciplining children?

That's not to say parents who employ spanking do nothing but that. There are multiple ways parents may discipline children. But Mike Tanier's thoughtful piece about the science of spanking illustrates the problems that can arise from parents who resort to spanking too often... and perhaps make one reconsider whether or not it's a wise idea to spank a child in the first place.

That doesn't mean we need to round up all the parents who spanked their children and put them on public trial. Rather, it means we need to seriously revisit how we discipline children and how they actually turned out when they became adults.

The best argument might be this: Spanking is something that doesn't require much thought to be put into the action. It's a no-muss, no-fuss solution to disciplinary problems. Get the child to associate in his mind that certain actions will result in something that hurts, and they'll get the message.

But the truth is this: Raising a child is not supposed to be an easy task. I don't have children, but I was one myself, and I know very well that raising me was a tough task for my mother and father. And given that it's not an easy task, it's something that should require a lot of thought into how the child is raised... not just in terms of discipline and teaching right from wrong, but issues ranging from understanding how to handle the child at each stage of development, to understanding how you really show a child that you care.

Telling the kids they need to get out of bed in the morning, reminding them to be careful when they go some place, inquiring as to what they are doing if something appears suspicious, asking them if they are all right if they come home looking upset, and praising them for getting so many A's on a report card are all ways the parents show how they care for kids. It's a major part of parenting.

And the kids that go around acting defiant, or get spoiled rotten, or are constantly in trouble with the law... well, those kids aren't going to turn into good little soldiers just by spanking them. And the parents in question likely have bigger problems than whether they do or don't spank their kids.

We don't need to climb up to one ledge or the other and worry about what's going to happen next. We simply need to ask ourselves if there are better ways to teach our kids right from wrong than just using a swat on the butt.

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