Appropriate Discipline or Child Abuse?

Former University of Oklahoma Sooners running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for child abuse after admitting to disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. The Minnesota Vikings suspended Peterson for one game after learning of his arrest, but the team has since re-instated the player, saying that they feel it is in the best interest of the organization to let the judicial process run its course:

"To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child. At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action. This is a difficult path to navigate, and our focus is on doing the right thing. Currently we believe we are at a juncture where the most appropriate next step is to allow the judicial process to move forward.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely and support Adrian's fulfillment of his legal responsibilities throughout this process."

The team and the NFL are in a tight spot currently, as the league is under investigation for its handling of another domestic violence case--former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was terminated from the team and indefinitely suspended from the league after delivering a knockout punch to his then-fiance in an elevator. Initially, Rice was suspended for two games, but after video of the incident became public, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quickly began to back pedal and appease public opinion by suspending the player "indefinitely." The NFL's own comment about the Peterson case was succinct: "His case will be reviewed under the league's Personal Conduct Policy, including with the assistance of our new special advisor Lisa Friel." The case has some people wondering--why does punching a grown woman rank an indefinite suspension, but striking a preschooler rate only a one-game suspension? The difference lies in both intent and the law. By all accounts, Peterson was simply using a traditional method of discipline--one that had been used on him as a child--and had no intention of harming his child. Under Texas law, it is permissible to use "reasonable discipline" in guiding or punishing one's child. Oklahoma, similarly, allows "ordinary force" in discipline, and state law says such force includes, but is not limited to "spanking, switching, or paddling." Regardless of one's opinion of spanking or other corporal punishment, it is important to remember what the law says about these acts. You may believe that spanking is okay. You may believe that spanking is a form of child abuse. The law, however, specifically states that spanking, when used with "ordinary force," is not child abuse. Keep in mind, though, that "ordinary force" typically refers to spanking that does not leave any physical injuries, such as bruising, cuts, and lasting welts. It is virtually impossible to "switch" a child--or strike the buttocks or backs of the legs with a long, slender branch--without leaving a mark. In determining whether to file charges against Peterson, the district attorney's office reviewed images of the child's injuries and determined that, regardless of the father's intent, the switching of the child exceeded reasonable discipline.

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