Rusty Hardin explains away child abuse

This is not a defense of the NFL’s decision to suspend Adrian Peterson without pay for the rest of the season. The NFL’s disciplinary “system” is a mess and needs to be overhauled. But Hardin’s attack on the league this morning was best on a categorically false premise – that when it’s your own children, you may hurt them. To be clear, that is not what Harden said. He said repeatedly that no one wants to see a child hurt and that Peterson made a “mistake.” But Hardin also said over and over again that it was wrong for anyone but parents to be the arbiter of how people should raise their own children, that Peterson “spanked” his four year old son and that he left no permanent damage, as if that somehow made his actions OK. In other words, Hardin tried repeatedly to explain away or minimize assault on a young child.

It’s reasonable to say that the legal system’s adjudication of any criminal matter ought to be the first line of consideration for subsequent discipline by the NFL. But as Jemele Hill pointed out this morning, if Harden is not disputing the league’s right to impose at least *some* discipline in cases of domestic violence, it’s frankly shocking that he does not believe that is the case for abusing a four year old child. And let’s be clear – Peterson was deemed by the criminal justice system to have broken the law when he whipped his four year old son with a tree branch. You’re not allowed to do that and it’s not a matter of discretion.

And by the way, Hardin has no idea whether permanent damage was done to the child. Yes, the physical wounds will presumably heal. But such is typically the case when a child is sexually abused. That’s not material, as the lawyers would say, to whether permanent damage was done. I am not saying that what Peterson did was the same as child sexual abuse, by the way. But what is not debatable is this – you are not allowed to assault a child just because she or he is your own. Reducing that simple, incontrovertible fact to a question of “discretion” in “disciplining” your own kids is sophistry of the worst sort.

Hardin is paid very handsomely to represent wealthy clients. That’s his job. There is, therefore, no reason to take at face value his assertions and characterizations, however. I know he’s a “newsmaker” and attracts audience, which is why companies like ESPN want him on the air. But he’s not an objective analyst. And in my judgment, he crossed a shameful line today and disgraced himself by trying to explain away assault on a small child.


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