Ray Rice is not the only NFL player currently dealing with a suspension. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard by now that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse after taking a switch to his 4-year-old child’s back, buttocks and legs. In response to the indictment Mr. Peterson, like Mr. Rice, was suspended, then reinstated and then suspended again from playing.
Mr. Peterson denies that what he did was abuse. He defends himself, says he was simply disciplining a child and that, yes, he did get carried away in that discipline. But, he insists, he never committed child abuse.
The court of public opinion has been swift and judgmental. And, dare I say it? Hypocritical.
The only reason any of this is news at all is because Mr. Peterson is a celebrity football running back.
While I can’t say much about Mr. Peterson, the Vikings, or even the NFL’s latest attempts to deal with its player’s domestic lives, I can speak to child abuse. As a pastor, I have seen the abuse of children much more closely than I ever cared to.
I also served on a grand jury in Georgia for three months, and I saw photos of abused children so horrific that I could not sleep. My grand jury service and my years in ministry have led me to one conclusion: As far as I can tell, the court of public opinion doesn’t care if you are a child being abused as long as your abuser is not a celebrity.
When I have tried to talk with others about what I have seen, the response is, “Please, I just can’t hear stories like that.”
Translation: “I don’t want to know.”
So here is my point: The same people screaming and throwing a fit over a child being whooped with a switch do not want to deal with everyday abuse in their communities — or possibly their homes.
The only reason people have an opinion about Adrian Peterson is because he’s an NFL player. The focus isn’t on the child. The focus is on the celebrity.
Five children will die today from abuse. Five American children will die.
I could tell you stories that would give you nightmares. I’ve seen photos I will never be able to forget. Those photos of the cuts and welts suffered by Mr. Peterson’s son are bad enough, but they are minor compared with the potential for abuse that is out there.
I’m not defending Mr. Peterson. I’m only pointing out that the public is talking out both sides of its mouth. We are condemning a man for using a switch on his child while ignoring the thousands of children being beaten — many to a bloody pulp — every single day in this country.
In 2012 five times as many children died on U.S. soil from abuse as military service members who died that year in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five times. Here on U.S. soil. Children dying brutal, cruel deaths.
So what can you do about it?
Well, you could become a CASA volunteer (court appointed special advocate for children) and encourage better treatment (in Baltimore casabalt.org, and in Baltimore County, casabaltco.org).
If being an advocate is too much you can also donate or volunteer in other ways.
You can befriend the children in your neighborhood and their parents. Become engaged in our community. Be a safe haven for children in need.
You could educate yourself and then write letters to state and county elected representatives and demand they do better by our children.
You could become a foster family for children who have been abused, as my parents have done.
Or you could just rant about a football player who took a switch to his son. That’s probably the easiest thing to do. Just be aware that it is also the one thing least likely to affect real change for children at risk.
Darian G. Burns was pastor of Dundalk Presbyterian Church from 2005 through 2012. Today he is a writer, poet and speaker who lives in Greeley, Colo. He writes regularly on faith and culture at darianburns.com.