When the news first broke of the child abuse charges against Adrian Peterson, I was playing choo-choo trains with Sonny on the living room floor while watching SportsCenter.
As the details of Peterson’s charges flashed across the screen, I panicked. In the 14 years that I’ve been playing fantasy football, this season was the first where I had the top pick. The problem was, there was hardly any consensus. Fantasy experts all had their darlings: LeSean McCoy, Jamal Charles, Peyton Manning. I drafted Peterson. He was coming off a solid season and two years removed from nearly breaking the NFL single season rushing record. Plus, his nickname was "All Day," as in he could run all day. It seemed a no-brainer.
Then the anvil dropped — Peterson had been deactivated for the next game. Immediately, I leapt off the floor and headed for the computer. I needed to see if his back-up was still available in my league.
While my laptop booted, I turned off the TV, not wanting to be bothered by the coverage. At the time, there were few facts. The broadcasters mostly spoke of hearsay: a happy-go-lucky Peterson at practice, a testy text message exchange with his baby’s mama, and the use of a switch in the beating.
As far as I was concerned, how someone disciplined their kids was none of my business. I hated it when anyone — friends or strangers — offered their unsolicited advice on my parenting. Who was I to judge? Besides, what was considered abuse these days was different when I was a kid. My mother had smacked me a few times after I talked back to her, and I turned out OK. Some of my friends had it much worse: spanked with belts, swatted with shoes, having glass plates thrown at them. Whatever Peterson did couldn’t have been that bad, I thought.
But I was wrong.
Later that night, after I put Sonny to bed, I switched on SportsCenter. New details had emerged in the Peterson case, the ticker read. Concerned with my fantasy team, I snatched up my laptop.
It didn’t take long for me to find what exactly had emerged: pictures of the beating. In the grainy photos, ten long, bloody lashes lined the doughy legs of Peterson’s 4-year-old boy, several of which were so close to his crotch I winced. According to the police report, there were cuts and welts on the boy’s hands and butt as well and Peterson had stuffed leaves in his mouth to muffle his cries. I couldn’t see Peterson as a football player anymore but as a father. How could a man do this to his child?
Before Sonny was born, I hadn’t ruled out hitting as a form of discipline, but after I held my son for the first time, I truly believed he was too perfect for me to ever physically harm him.
Deep into the terrible twos, I haven’t once hit my kid. If I said I hadn’t thought about it though, I’d be lying. There are times when Sonny’s erratic emotions and complete recklessness have pushed me to the brink of reason, where talking to him, time-outs, walking away and bribery — all the tricks in my still developing parenting tool-box — haven’t worked. When that happens, I grit my teeth. I try to breathe. Sometimes I raise my voice at him. Then I feel terribly guilty when he sulks or cries and even angrier when he ignores me and keeps doing whatever it is I don’t want him to do. It is in those moments where I feel like a total failure as a father.
People who beat their kids say it teaches them that there are consequences and boundaries and to have respect for authority, which may or may not be true. But above all, it teaches them to fear their parents, the people they should trust more than anyone else. This is even more true for young children like my son and Peterson’s. If they don’t have the ability to control their own urges to hit or spit or take some other kid’s toy, how can we expect them to understand consequences, particularly when they involve the terror of fists or switches? And if we as parents can’t communicate, how will we raise our children to handle their own problems without hitting?
For now, Adrian Peterson sits on my fantasy team’s bench. He won’t return to the field until his case has been resolved, and even then he will most likely face discipline from the NFL. Every time I look at my team I regret ever drafting him — still, I don’t drop him. Instead, I know whenever I get frustrated with Sonny I’ll take a deep breath, imagine those grainy photos and remind myself that he’s just a little boy. My little boy.