Peterson case prompts dialogue about spanking

Published 9:23 am Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Yes, Adrian Peterson said, the allegation that he struck his young son with a branch is true. No, he does not believe he committed a crime.

This type of discipline, he said, is how his parents punished him. The charge of child abuse, Peterson said, does not apply because he meant the boy no harm.

Peterson’s stance is startling, at least for much of the country where corporal punishment has been largely cast aside. Usually off-the-field incidents in the news involving NFL players produce downplays or denials from the accused.

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Peterson’s argument is likely to surface again this week, when his case goes before a judge in Texas. Peterson has support from people in areas where severely spanking children is still a generational and cultural practice, including some of his peers around the league. But his use of a switch and belt to spank his 4-year-old son for misbehavior has also prompted harsh rebukes, even from disciplinarians who believe boundaries were crossed. He is on paid leave from the Minnesota Vikings until the case is resolved.

The case has sparked discussion — and reflection — from athletes and others who say they were disciplined in the same way. Some are revisiting how they feel about the act, and it prompted others to talk about how spanking affected them — in good ways and bad.

Hall of Fame wide receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter voiced an emotional epiphany about his changed view of corporal punishment since being raised in a poor seven-child family in Ohio.

“It’s the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me,” Carter said on the network’s pregame show shortly after Peterson was indicted. “And I promised my kids I won’t teach that mess to them. You can’t beat a kid to make them do what they want to do.”

Though 31 states have outlawed corporal punishment in schools, all 50 states allow parents to hit their children as a reasonable means of discipline. But the definition of what’s reasonable has been contracting, said Victor Vieth, executive director emeritus of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center in Winona, Minnesota.