I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Last week it was Adrian Peterson all day every day on the local talk radio shows and in every newspaper sports column in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The sensationalized celebrity football player who whipped and injured his four-year-old child with a switch didn’t have a chance. On and on they went with pious demonization. Appropriate shock, anger, and thoughtful consideration were overwhelmed by the explosion of shadowy energy that brought him from adulation to contempt in a moment.
Many dynamics played themselves out without reflection in the rush to judge and be done with it all: abuse, parenting, Texas justice, corporal punishment, cultural differences, the tearing down of heroic athletes, and the dissemination of illegally obtained police reports and invasive photos of the child.
Finally they drove him out-of-town.
I didn’t think a criminal indictment was necessary: Peterson cooperated with authorities without an attorney present. He voluntarily testified before a grand jury. Based on what we know right now, I think he needs help to unlearn what he experienced as a child more than he needs constant public humiliation. Appropriate shock and anger were understandable and necessary. But a humbled Peterson also deserved our empathy and compassion–not our self-righteous vilification. He will make a plea deal or go to trial before a jury of his peers in Texas. His punishment will be insignificant. I don’t care about his punishment; I care that he demonstrates that he’s learned better ways to discipline children, and I care about his future behavior.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tragic death of four-year-old Eric Dean professionally chronicled by Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl. Eric’s stepmother murdered him. Over many months before his death, people reported 15 instances of child abuse to Pope County, MN child protective services. Only one was investigated and wrongly dismissed. Citizens of Minnesota expressed their outrage but not to the level of the star athlete.
How could that be?
A violent and soul-destroying story underreported as much as the Peterson story was overblown goes on without end every day in the midst of those so upset last week.
Some Minnesota facts:
- In 2013, men murdered 25 women in Minnesota in domestic abuse situations.
- Women murdered seven men.
- People made over 18,000 domestic violence calls to 911 in Minneapolis alone in 2009.
- Child services in Minnesota does not investigate 71% of reports of child abuse.
Some national statistics:
- A man batters a woman every nine seconds in the US.
- An intimate partner has assaulted 25% of US women.
- Police spend 1/3rd of their time responding to domestic violence disturbance calls.
- Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.
Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse permeates our society. I never consulted in an organization where emotional abuse wasn’t prevalent. In addition to domestic abuse, some athletes—professional and amateur–bully those perceived to be “soft,” demonize gays and lesbians, and demand silence and conformity in the locker room. Reporters often observe this behavior and their silence colludes with the abuse. Newspapers report ugly stories of bullying and abuse in our schools. And what’s left to say about the Catholic Church? Abuse surrounds us.
Have we become desensitized to what is around us? Do we only react to what is new and sensational?
We need to wake up and see the reality of abuse as it is—not just the celebrity cases that poke our dark sides and gin up dumbed-down anger that is dangerous and unhealthy. Then we need to take on the challenges and with an anger transformed to a relentless determination eliminate abuse of all kinds in our lives, neighborhoods, workplaces, and national personality.