The five most destructive words to our village are 'That’s how I was raised'
We’re constantly told that it takes a village to raise a child. But when I look at the recent epidemic of domestic violence charges against NFL players, I’m convinced we need to take another look at those in our village whom we allow to help raise our children. Not just at those who commit these terrible acts, but also those apologists in the media and sports industry who, either through their fuzzy logic or their desperate need to pander to their demographics, perpetuate a permissive attitude toward domestic violence.
First, we need to look at Ray Rice, Jonathan Dwyer, Adrian Peterson, and other professional athletes who have recently been caught engaging in illegal and unacceptable acts of violence and reevaluate how we treat them in our village. Like it or not, professional athletes, movie stars, and recording artists are role models for our youth. And being a role model translates into big bucks because kids are willing to spend money to come see them perform as well as on products they endorse. That’s one of the reasons they get paid so much money.
The NFL, NBA, and other professional sports organizations encourage this ideal of role model by touting their players’ charitable and community activities, which often seems like part of a branding campaign rather than a sincere drive to contribute. I don’t think entertainers (which is what professional athletes are) should be promoted as role models for our children because many of them don’t have the maturity, self-control, desire, or training to accept that responsibility. Athletes should be models of how to play their sport and nothing more. The exceptions would be those few who distinguish themselves by taking an active and admirable role in bettering their communities, as Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali did.
Unfortunately, as long as there’s more money to be made off a role model than just an athlete, the hype will continue. And we will continue to be shocked and outraged every time an athlete is caught punching, slapping, and spanking.
Maybe we should direct our outrage elsewhere:
Outrage #1: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other apologists claim that this whole cluster-flub at least brought awareness to the problem of domestic abuse. This is disingenuous on a couple levels. In the Ray Rice case, the NFL and the Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti did their best to (at the very least) ignore evidence of domestic abuse. And, at worst, they may have covered it up so there would be no awareness. That’s like getting caught flashing people while wearing nothing but a trench coat — and then wanting credit for bringing trench coats back in fashion.
Outrage #2: Why does it take TMZ to bring awareness of domestic violence? The awareness should have been there all along. For years we’ve seen the statistics, the photos of bruised and battered women and children, heard their testimonies of relentless abuse. We’ve had books and songs and Lifetime movies. Didn’t we learn about that from the O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and Hope Solo cases? Donald Sterling displayed racists behavior before TMZ released those tapes. Racism and class struggle and police profiling have been a constant and humiliating practice long before Ferguson. Once the media furor dies down, do we just revert back to our default setting of closing our eyes until the next media-ready event occurs?
Can’t we fight injustice without TMZ? By that I mean that we have to keep the pressure on even when there are no cameras rolling. The NFL has instituted changes, they tell us, with panels and experts and transparency. Before, they relied on public lethargy. A player smacked a spouse, it was reported in the news, a minor punishment followed, the public forgot. Now that they’re promising more transparency, I worry that they have more incentive to bury any incidents, hiding them completely rather than risking another protracted public inspection. While they will undoubtedly assure us that this will not be the case, their past performance does not inspire confidence.
Outrage #3: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hit his four-year-old son with a thin part of a branch and was indicted for reckless or negligent injury. This has sparked a national debate on the effectiveness and ethics of spanking. Worse, thanks to commentators like Charles Barkley, the debate has degenerated into a race issue. “I’m from the South,” Barkley explained on TV. “Whipping—we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”
The five most destructive words to our village are “That’s how I was raised.”
These words are the triumph of routine over reason, of self-delusion over self-interest, of excuses over evidence. In short, the phrase embodies the kind of muddled thinking that our culture “officially” stands against because doing something just because “that’s how I was raised” is the definition of hive mentality. It’s celebrating the joys of brainwashing over rational decision-making.
Most people embrace these words with great pride when it reflects their core values of being hard working, compassionate, patriotic, religious, or family-oriented. But they condemn anyone else who uses them when it goes against accepted American tradition. When a man straps on a bomb, climbs on a school bus, and detonates, some would justify his behavior by saying that his actions were an outgrowth of how he was raised. When a teenager drags a black man to his death behind his truck, some make the same claim. When a group of teens tie a gay boy to a fence and beat him to death, their actions reflect how they were raised.
Barkley may be accurate in his description of the South, and not just among African-Americans. According to an ABC poll, 73% of Southerners approve spanking children, as opposed to 60% in the rest of the country. Where he’s wrong is in justifying spanking (“We all spanked our kids.”) in light of what we know today about the harmful effects of spanking:
- Spanking may stop certain behavior, but it makes long-term behavior worse.
- Children who are hit are more likely to use violence to resolve problems with siblings and peers.
- The Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed 20 years of data and concluded that spanking yields no positive outcome.
- The journal Pediatrics said that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”
- One study concluded that frequent spanking (once a month for more than 3 years) resulted in children having less gray matter in certain areas of the brain “linked to depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders.” Another found that spanking affected the brain by decreasing cognitive ability.
This is not a condemnation of those who have sparingly used light spanking in the past, before such research was available. But it’s been out there for at least a decade now and any responsible parent wanting to use corporal punishment should at least do the research. Watching Sean Hannity beat his desk with his belt while proclaiming that being whipped with a belt by his father had not left him mentally abused should be all the proof necessary of its detrimental effects.
Additionally, watching the NFL play Twister with the truth, contorting their statements and explanations into some tortured Gordian knot of misinformation is to witness one of the standard bearers of influence on our children undermine everything they are supposed represent: fair play, work ethic, compassion in the face of competition. That’s part of what they sell to the American public and therefore they are obliged to actually do something when that promise is threatened.
Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. But not everyone in the village is worthy of the task.
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