Peterson Case: When Is A 'Whuppin' Child Abuse?

Regardless of your opinion of corporal punishment, the reaction to Adrian Peterson's arrest over the weekend centered on what people grew up with.

Peterson Case: When Is A 'Whuppin' Child Abuse?
Mike Morbeck / CC BY SA 2.0

Several of the NFL's biggest names were notably absent from the field Sunday. But while Ray Rice and Greg Hardy sat for widely criticized domestic violence-related incidents against women, the arrest of Adrian Peterson on suspicion of child abuse drew mixed reaction. (Video via KHOU)

Peterson, by the way, is playing Sunday — which we learned in an announcement late Monday morning. 

Late last week, Sports Radio 610 in Houston obtained the police report on Peterson along with photos of the cuts and bruises on his son's legs and other parts of his body. Newsy has chosen not to show those photos.

Police say Peterson told investigators he hit his son with a switch in May after the 4-year-old boy shoved another child. He turned himself in to Montgomery County officials in Texas over the weekend on a charge of negligent injury to a child and quickly posted bond.

Peterson also hasn't denied hitting the boy. In a statement now widely cited by media outlets, his attorney wrote: "Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

And that last sentence is what has many widely denouncing Peterson's actions while others try to give context based on their personal experiences. Retired NBA baskeball player Charles Barkley called it a matter of race and where you grew up.

CHARLES BARKLEY ON CBS: "I'm from the South. Whipping is ... we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances."

But several other commentators disagreed, specifically saying this is not a question of race or which region of the country you were raised in, but rather the home you were raised in. ESPN's Cris Carter hinted his mother hit him, and Mike Ditka outright said his father did so — and they contradicted each other while they were at it.

CRIS CARTER ON ESPN: "My mom did the best job that she could do raising seven kids by herself, but there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong."

MIKE DITKA: "That was a great thing. I didn't like it. I cried. But every time, I got it."

That from two NFL Hall of Famers and an NBA Hall of Famer — three role models of a previous generation, to say nothing of arguably the best running back carrying a football right now. The question remains: Where does discipline cross over to abuse?

The American Psychological Association is one of several organizations to profile the long-term effects of spanking — from aggression and mental health disorders to slowing cognitive development.

But as DeNeen Brown points out for The Washington Post, spankings, or "whuppins," are deeply ingrained forms of discipline in some families hesitant to give them up.

"Spankings make up neighborhood legends and family folklore, comical and sincere. They connect folks, haunt them, set them up to wrestle over what they will do with their own children."

Another of Peterson's sons died just last year after prosecutors say he was abused at the hands of a man dating the boy's mother, though that's an undeniably more severe case of laying hands on a child.

Peterson tweeted around noon Sunday a series of Bible verses, most notably one urging believers to stop "habitual judging."

Peterson's attorney says he has fully cooperated with police throughout their investigation.

This video includes images from Keith Allison / CC BY SA 2.0, Parker Anderson / CC BY ND 2.0 and Mike Morbeck / CC BY SA 2.0.