No debate

What’s been most interesting about the discussion over Adrian Peterson’s indictment on charges of child abuse is how many people have acknowledged having been subject to similar treatment when they were children.

On that score, the best commentary I’ve heard so far came from Scott Ferrall, the CBS radio sports talk guy best known for his very scratchy sounding voice. Ferrall, who is 48 years old, said last night that he was regularly beaten as a child. Ferrall dripped with contempt for anyone who claimed being beaten with a switch, or a paddle or name-your-implement was a reasonable form of discipline. Ferrall said it did not make him a better person. It didn’t teach him any important life lessons. It made him hateful, angry, defiant, hateful toward his parents, more likely to be violent himself.

The data on harsh physical punishment, it should be noted, strongly support Ferrall’s own experience. And there’s a good reason for that. When people beat their children, they do it because they are not capable of controlling their own impulses. There’s no larger lesson being conveyed, no clear-sighted vision for how best to raise children. Only uncontrolled, flailing anger, misdirected in the worst possible way.

At this point, I don’t really care what the NFL does. The outcome of the recent domestic violence charges/convictions against several NFL players and, of course, the indictment against Adrian Peterson reveal one thing above all others, when it comes to the NFL’s personal conduct policy: It’s a mess. It needs to be reconceived from the ground up. I’ve said before that when the NFL suspended Rice for two games, I think they genuinely thought they were taking an admirable stand on domestic violence. It was the most significant penalty they’d handed down for such a charge and, given that they were operating in a gray area of the league’s off-field disciplinary approach, they no doubt thought they were making a principled stand.

The blowback showed how far behind public opinion they’d fallen on the subject of violence against women and all the subsequent dissembling by the Commissioner is a by product of that. The conduct policy itself is predicated on a set of assumptions about what constitutes generally acceptable social behavior and about the “optics” of players transgressing those norms. Since what constitutes generally acceptable social behavior evolves over time, any policy predicated on policing those risks getting caught short. The NFL is in a particularly problematic part of the curve right now – on several fronts, the violence in and around the league is increasingly upsetting to much of the public. For a league built on violence, this is going to be a tough one to get out front of.


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