Older son, Andy, in town for the weekend. The following was written after he got home and wasn’t completed until after 4 am, so please excuse errors. Blog suspended for family time; will return Monday, 9/15.
The NFL has finally managed to do something no politician could. Unite our nation. In this day and age, of course, it’s united against something as opposed to for something but at least it shows we all can agree. Everyone believes there should be no domestic violence nor should there be child abuse. Hey, it’s a start.
Although we all agree on those two “thou shall not’s,” there is some disagreement over what constitutes those acts. These two crimes have been nearly non-stop talking points on radio and television since the high profile cases of Ray Rice and, as of yesterday, Adrian Peterson. Listen more than ten straight minutes and you’ll hear the names Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald, too.
Most of the focus has been negative, with so much finger pointing going on, this might be the first time in history people wish they were polydactyl. If you don’t know what it means, as my mother used to say, look it up. My mother never went to college and my father actually quit high school a month before his high school graduation - to enlist in the army. His instinctive move got no resistance because World War II was a war this country thought was not only important for us to fight in, but mandatory. Both of my parents have since passed away but the lessons they taught me live on. For the record, my family, consisting of the three of us and my younger brother, would have been considered part of the lower middle class.
My parents stayed married until my dad’s fatal heart attack in 1976. While not the couple who showed PDAs often, my father never hit my mother, nor did she ever strike him. When my brother and/or I screwed up, my father would (bare butt) spank us - with a belt and my mother’s knowledge - but that was saved for major transgressions, e.g. I can’t remember too many of them.
My wife and I have never felt the desire to hit each other and I, on occasion, would spank our two boys, however, with my hand but also with my wife’s knowledge. The point I’m trying to get the reader to understand is that, in the majority of cases (no research numbers, just a gut - and common sense - feel), people repeat behaviors they observe, most definitely if the action positively shaped who they are.
After listening to so many, I’m guessing, upper middle class (if not higher) sports reporters and talk show hosts cast the condescending statement, “Everyone knows you don’t put your hands on a woman. Everyone knows you don’t hit child.” Of course, you know that - if you were taught. I am in no way condoning the actions of the players mentioned above but if people are going to be so outraged that callers and talking heads are calling what’s going on in the NFL as an epidemic, why not try to stop the epidemic rather than just look to place blame? From what we’ve been hearing lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if we run out of physical therapists, treating people falling off their high horse.
To solve a problem, first we should investigate the perpetrators. Let’s start with Ray Rice. How did he become the monster who cold cocked his fiance in an elevator? Google a story that was written about him on May, 20, 2010 (Ray Rice’s Amazing Story by Zachary Beard, written for SB Nation) and you’ll realize that behavior came from elsewhere. When Ray was one, his father was shot dead in the street and when the killers were caught, it turned out Ray’s dad wasn’t even the target. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ten years later, his surrogate father, his cousin, was killed in a car accident when the driver of one car swerved to avoid hitting another. Exactly where he got the idea that hitting women was permissible is unknown but it had to have come from somewhere.
Adrian Peterson was so open and honest with the police about taking a switch to his son, he certainly couldn’t have thought it was going to become the story - and potential jail time - it has and probably will be. His father used to “put a whoopin’ ” on him when he did wrong, so when he saw his four-year old son push his brother off his bike, he felt the need to punish. From his emails to the youngster’s mother, even he realized he’d gone too far.
Read his biography on JockBio.com and you’ll see the early relationship he had with his father (who went to prison for money laundering when AD, a nickname his dad had given him when he was a toddler, was 13) - and what a strict disciplinarian he was. Who knows whether he feels his father (and mother who was also an outstanding athlete in her own right) provided him with the discipline it takes to be as good a player as he’s been in the NFL?
OK, enough with ifs and buts. Although the overwhelming majority of the professional football players have not shown up on police blotters, don’t think for a second the NFL doesn’t have a behavior problem when it comes to violence. Could it be the violence problem in the NFL derives from the fact that the game is inherently violent? The fiercest, most vicious (legal) hits elicit remarks such as, “Now, that is the way to play football” and in practice, players are applauded when, after taking a severe hit from a teammate, they deliver one right back on the next snap. So, the simple nature of the game definitely has to be looked at as a factor.
When I was at the University of Tennessee as an assistant basketball coach, all the coaches and players - of all sports - would eat together at the training table. It was a great, albeit expensive (for the university) way for us to get to know each other. That’s how I made the acquaintance of Reggie White, one of the gentlest, yet dominating players football had ever known. Reggie was born to unwed parents, yet his family would faithfully attend church. From all indications (reading his bio), his eight years with his parents were uneventful from a violence standpoint. It was at that age he moved in with his grandmother who raised him to be the star athlete and kind person he grew up to be. While his life was not without controversy (his speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature regarding stereotyping minorities and denouncing gays drew a great deal of criticism), there is no evidence of domestic violence or child abuse when he was young, nor after he got married and had children.
If you haven’t figured out after all of the above what my solution to these problems is, it’s education. Not a two-week seminar to rookies but, beginning in college (funded by the NFL - after all, I’ve been hearing about how the league has so much money they could have found that second Ray Rice videotape if they wanted to). Maybe, just maybe, some of these players, as hard as it is to believe, really don’t understand. Possibly they’ve seen their mother get hit by and stay with, even apologize for, her abuser. Because, for most of them, as with most of us, their mother is their hero. Maybe, from a young age, standing by her man is more than just a song title. Maybe, it’s just something a strong woman does. Children get punished by their dad for the same reason . . . they deserve it. No one really knows what things become facts in a young boy’s head. Of course, “everyone knows” there’s a difference between teaching a youngster a lesson and injuring him or her. Yet in some societies, as unfortunate as it is, the theory is that a man’s self worth is tied to his net worth, so bringing home a boatload of cash justifies any type of behavior.
We’ve heard the tales of the young guys who promise to make millions so their mom and siblings can get out of an abusive household, but that is usually a storyline for a feelgood movie (that people shell out $15 for - the same people who pay $99.95 for an official NFL jersey). Early education might not be the only salvation but it also might just be the best one. Show videos of what can happen to people who are abused, bring in speakers of those who were abused as well as those who were rehabilitated (or maybe some who weren’t and are still incarcerated - maybe showing someone who acts like a fool will discourage that behavior), make the players take verbal and tests or put them in “mock” situations and see how they (re)act. Naturally, punishment must be severe but education is needed more. Believe it or not, many of these guys do not know.
For those who think “the animals should be thrown in jail,” keep in mind these are not life sentences. These guys are eventually going to get out at some time and what, exactly, do we think they’ll be then? Plus, by throwing them out, what exactly do we think they’re going to do then? Take sensitivity classes or be bitter toward society? Educate them before there’s a need to incarcerate them or else how do we know which guys we should be cheering for?
To quote former Harvard president Derek Bok:
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”