Last week was a hard week to be a parent, especially to two little boys who love to watch football.
Everywhere you turned, someone was talking about the massive scandals involving several NFL players and their deplorable conduct. On television. In the newspapers. In line at the grocery store. I did everything in my power to shield them from all of it. I didn’t even let them watch the NFL halftime shows on Sunday because I knew what the topic of discussion would be.
I suppose I could have told them a watered down version of events. It is, after all, in vogue in the parenting world to turn every moment into a “teachable moment.” I suppose we could have had a didactic discussion about whether employers should be able to fire you for your off-the-job conduct. Or whether when you hold yourself out as a role model, you accept that you should be held to a higher standard.
But I didn’t. Because they don’t think of these athletes as role models. Yet. They are just guys on a field, playing a game.
I could have used it to teach them that violence is never the answer.
But I didn’t. Because, at 5 and 7, their little hearts have no business knowing that people can do terrible things. That darkness exists in the world.
Believe me, there is plenty of blame to go around in the Ray Rice scandal. But that blame does not fall solely on the shoulders of the Ravens and the NFL. It falls on all of us. The League, the team, the players, the media, and the public have all known the verbal account of the altercation for months. With the exception of a handful of sports writers, everyone else was all too willing to simply shake their heads and move on.
Because the biggest takeaway from the Ray Rice scandal is that we will tolerate anything as long as it isn’t on video. And if that’s true – if anything is forgivable unless you are forced to watch it – then friends we have a bigger problem than whether Roger Goodell is a hypocrite or Ray Rice should be in jail.
And that brings me to Adrian Peterson. I can barely bring myself to read the accounts because the bile rises up in my throat. What surprised me was that there seemed to be more hue and cry over Rice than Peterson. Indeed, many have come to his defense, citing similar abuse suffered at the hands of parents and grandparents as if it were a badge of honor. Or simply tradition.
But I wonder. If there had been a video of Adrian Peterson, battering and bruising his 4 year old son, would anyone have dared to defend him? These acts were not those of a father teaching his little boy how to share. They were, pure and simple, an exercise in the most violent form of control, over the most vulnerable of human beings.
Because when you hit a child – however you want to define it and whatever you use to hit him with – it isn’t discipline. It is humiliation and degradation. And assault. Studies have shown again and again and again and again that physical discipline does not teach a child that he did something wrong. When you hit him or lock him in a dark room or inflict any physical or emotional trauma, the only thing you are teaching is fear. The only thing you impart is the knowledge that the one person in the world who is supposed to love and protect you above all others will hurt you more than anyone else.
I chose not to tell my children why two NFL stars were not playing for their teams this week. I didn’t turn on the television. I hid the newspaper. I muted the radio. I did not think this was the time for a lesson on how role models should not be chosen solely on their athletic prowess. I spend enough time telling them that monsters don’t exist. For now, they don’t need to know I’m lying to them. If you want to call it sheltering or insulating, go ahead.
My job, after all, is to love and protect my children above all else. This week, that meant protecting their little hearts and minds from the existence of inhuman behavior. This week, it meant preserving their innocence. And maybe that’s worth more than trying to create a teachable moment.
Yes, it was a hard week to be a parent. But parenthood isn’t supposed to be easy. Or maybe it is. Maybe we need to start and end with the simple premise that your job as a parent is just to love and protect your children.