Adrian Peterson is not the worst man on earth. But I have no sympathy for him. Not after he has been accused of abusing two 4-year-old sons.
When you have two kids the same age, they are either twins, or you were way too busy that year. Turns out the latter is often true of Peterson. The 4-year-olds are from different mothers, neither of whom is his wife. And nearly as disturbing as his tree-branch discipline is this:
Peterson won’t say how many kids he has.
He was asked last year by an ESPN reporter, and he refused to answer. All he said was, “I know the truth. And I’m comfortable with that knowledge.”
A man should never be comfortable with such knowledge. A man should be ashamed.
You won’t even say how many kids you have? Or maybe you can’t? Before we scream about Peterson’s style of punishment, we should get loud over his style of reproduction. He is known to have fathered at least five children with three different women, all out of wedlock (he just married one of the mothers this summer) and may have as many as seven kids, another of the mothers, a former exotic dancer, told TMZ last year.
Meanwhile, after his indictment on felony child abuse charges last week, Peterson put out a statement saying, in part: “My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong, and that’s what I tried to do.”
But doesn’t right from wrong begin with how you became a father in the first place?
A father needs to be present
Last year, Peterson was showered with sympathy after one of his children, a 2-year-old boy, was killed, allegedly at the hands of the mother’s boyfriend. Peterson visited the child, who was on life support.
“I’m going to miss him,” he told ESPN. “I kept telling him, ÃÂI’m sorry.'”
We then discovered that Peterson only learned of the child’s existence a few weeks earlier. And what was too insensitive to say then should be said now: How much could you miss him? And how might that tragedy not have happened if you’d been in the child’s life the way a father should be?
Remember, Peterson’s children (at least the ones we’re aware of) are not the youthful mistakes of a confused teenager. He is 29, and he was a multimillionaire athlete long before he fathered those five kids. After allegedly hitting one son last May with a tree branch, multiple times, causing cuts and bruises on the back, legs, shoulders, buttocks and scrotum, he reportedly texted the child’s mother saying, “All my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”
He sure played games when it came to conceiving them. And instead of having “the biggie heart” how about being a bigger man?
I’m not an authority on corporal punishment, but I can tell you a child learns discipline far more from a father who is around to teach it than from one who isn’t. Has it ever occurred to Peterson that his kids might not need his “whoopings” if they were part of a family unit that followed the same rules with the same parents every day and night?
A need for discipline
Now, that doesn’t make Peterson Public Enemy No.1. Child abuse didn’t start with him any more than domestic abuse started with Ray Rice. I know Peterson had a tough upbringing, a father in prison, family members who met tragic ends.
But I also know that he has a way out of that. Success. Access. Financial security. If it’s asking too much for him to stop invoking his Texas childhood when allegedly leaving marks on a child that would turn anyone’s stomach, then is it asking too much that he show a little common sense when sleeping with so many women?
Athletes, like gladiators, command public attention and rouse the common chorus. That chorus coming down on Peterson – as well as the smaller chorus defending him – ought to also acknowledge the inherent risks of trying to raise children in multiple states with occasional visits and monthly checks. That’s not fathering. It’s part-timing.
Peterson played a football game just days after his 2-year-old’s death. That’s not learning much. He insisted on his “whoopings” even after he’d lost a child to violence. That’s not learning much. He was accused of bruising his other 4-year-old during a car ride – months before this latest charge. That’s not learning much. And he has been issuing lofty statements that seem clearly written by lawyers, despite alleged text messages to his children’s mothers like this: “be still n take ya whooping he would have saved the (scar). He aight (all right).”
That’s not learning much.
So no sympathy here. The Vikings have the right to sit him (although he still gets paid) and the NFL is just, well, so out of touch, you don’t know where to begin.
Kind of like I feel about Peterson, a man who won’t – or can’t – say how many children he has fathered. Talk all you want about switches and whoopings. Before you discipline a child, you should learn to discipline yourself.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.