“I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.” —Adrian Peterson
The NFL may have inadvertently done us all a favor by shedding light on a problem that is too often ignored or swept under the rug. Recent incidents of abuse of his then fiancée/now wife by former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and alleged child abuse by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson are stark reminders that domestic violence against anyone has no place in any relationship, even when it is not captured on camera or doesn’t become a national news story. As the President of a civil rights organization that is steeped in a tradition of peaceful change, and as a husband and father of two daughters, I have consistently spoken out against the lack of value placed on the lives of Black males including Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and too many more across the nation. Today, I want to send a similar message about the value we place on the women and children who live in our homes. Non-violence has always been the cornerstone of what Dr. King and John Lewis have called “The Beloved Community” — and non-violence begins in the home.
While a wide range of disciplinary choices are available to parents, we must ask ourselves if the way we were raised is the same way we want to raise our children. What lessons are we teaching children when disputes between fathers and mothers are more likely settled with physical confrontations instead of reasoned conversations? While spanking — sometimes with belts and switches – might have been a part of many of our childhoods, what are we saying to our children when we whip them until their butts are black and blue? Charles Barkley was a formidable basketball player and is an entertaining sports commentator, but Chuck got it wrong when he recently downplayed Adrian Peterson’s use of a switch which caused lacerations and bruises on his 4-year-old son. Barkley responded by saying, “I'm from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances."
Responding to the fumbling response of the NFL in the wake of recent incidents and allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse involving professional football players, on Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted, “I got it wrong and I am sorry.” Saying that “Domestic abuse and sexual assault have no place in the NFL,” he also pledged to re-examine and change NFL policies to prevent future incidents and toughen sanctions for players who break the rules.
But this is a problem that affects all of us. Domestic violence occurs among all races and in all communities. Parenting is not easy, and none of us are perfect; but when loving discipline crosses the line into angry and hurtful punishment, it is time to take a step back and seek healthier ways to teach our children right from wrong. Many urban families facing the twin stresses of poverty and single parenthood may need special help. That is why many Urban League affiliates across the country offer parenting counseling as part of their services to the community, and it is why the National Urban League has been such a strong supporter of Early Childhood Education and programs like Head Start which include parenting classes.
This issue is about more than Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and the NFL. It is about who we are as a nation. It’s time for all of us to take a stand and make it clear – domestic violence is wrong – no tolerance, no excuses. Our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends are counting on us.
Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League