The NFL’s Position: Is It Discipline or Violence?

It appears the NFL is in hot water again. This time it’s another form of domestic abuse. One of their sponsors—Anheuser Busch, the parent company of the official beer of the NFL—issued a strong statement expressing its displeasure over how the league has responded to its players being connected to incidents of domestic violence and child abuse.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” a representative for Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

Visa, McDonald’s and Campbell Soup Co. said they’ve also voiced similar concerns to the league. It just seems “dark” for athletes who play such a violent sport to be using corporal punishment with their children. This response came on the heels of the Minnesota Vikings’ banner sponsor Radisson suspending its sponsorship deal with the team, shortly after the Vikings said they would play Adrian Peterson (who has been indicted on a child-abuse charge).

It’s Not All as It Seems…

photo credit: Joe Bielawa via photopin cc

photo credit: Joe Bielawa via photopin cc

Let me say the obvious: Any emotionally healthy person agrees that domestic violence or abuse is unacceptable. However, I gotta wonder if everyone’s getting on the bandwagon for the right reasons. You know the story, right? Adrian Peterson allegedly beat his son after he behaved inappropriately. As I listened to the details of the Adrian Peterson case, I saw another side to the issue with his son. In fact, Peterson began to talk about his childhood and the role of discipline and corporal punishment from his father. Peterson said:

“Discipline like I gave my son made me the football player I am today. I have always believed I could have been one of those kids lost on the streets unless my parents provided discipline like this.”

Interestingly, Reggie Bush came to his defense saying he’d done the same thing to his daughter. Bush claims the severe discipline Peterson meted out to his son was similar to what he experienced as a child. So do millions of parents, especially in certain demographics. Now, fasten your seatbelts—here’s the clincher.

In their book, NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman describe some extensive cross-ethnic and international research on corporal punishment by Drs. Jennifer Lansford and Ken Dodge. Their data suggested that if a culture views spanking as the normal consequence for bad behavior, kids aren’t damaged by its occasional use. In other words, many middle-class white families have believed that spanking is bad for kids and makes them more violent as adults. For decades, research on spanking was challenged by the lack of a control group to compare against — almost all kids (90+%) had been spanked at least once at some time in their early lives. New research shows that now up to 25% of kids are never spanked, so it’s a fair question: How are they turning out? Are they turning out better?

Surprisingly, they’re not. In fact, studies done on African-Americans, for example, demonstrate that spanking actually helps improve behavior as the children become teens. To summarize the research simply: In a culture where spanking is normal in response to poor behavior, it helps. However, when spanking is done by an adult who’s tried desperately to refrain but finally gives in, the spanking is usually administered in absolute anger and retribution. This causes unhealthy young adults.

What Do You Think About Discipline?

So—maybe, just maybe, the issue is bigger than child abuse. Adrian Peterson, and all caring adults, must ask themselves: Is the discipline I give to young people given in hopes that they improve on their conduct, or is it simply an angry reaction? Whatever my level of discipline, am I consistent with my young people?

I talk to coaches all the time who are divided on this topic. Some are old school and see kids today as wimps. Kids can’t take any harsh feedback, they wilt under stern discipline or conditioning, and you can forget about criticism. It crushes them. And then mom or dad gets involved as “snowplow” parents.

Other coaches are more progressive and believe no physical punishment should be given. They recognize it as abuse or violence and believe it’s inappropriate for students of any age. Instead, they seek other ways to correct and guide adolescent athletes. For example, “time out” (in various versions) has become a popular alternative to corporal punishment. However, new studies show that an angry kid sent to a corner to be silent doesn’t ponder and reflect on the wisdom of their misbehavior. They just get more upset and often violent. So the studies suggest adults try “Time In” instead of “Time Out.” This means, sit down and talk the issue over with your kid. Get them to reflect on what they’ve done.

This sounds great on paper, but I believe one of two results will happen most often. First, many kids are just not in a frame of mind to talk common sense in that moment. Second, some kids will misbehave simply because they want attention from the adult. This discipline actually fosters bad behavior. So let’s talk about what really works as we discipline young people.

I want to provide a platform to discuss this topic:

  • Is it ever appropriate to physically discipline a young person?
  • Can students learn to self-regulate without some corporal punishment?
  • Where is the line between “abuse” and “discipline” with students?
  • If Adrian Peterson was doing what he felt was normal, because he cares about the “future of his son… is he wrong? Is the key “consistency”?
  • How can adults help youth become the best version of themselves?

As a dad, I acknowledge that I did spank my children when they were young. By the time they reached fourth grade, I felt I could move to a different style of discipline, where I consistently talked over life’s equations and how every choice my kids made included a consequence or a benefit. It was up to them to live with it.

What do you think about this issue?


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The NFL’s Position: Is It Discipline or Violence?