Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bottom of this Swamp

Like any good (or bad) teacher, I'd like to stop class for a few moments to watch some video clips. For the good of our education. First, a scene from Monty Python's classic film:

Let us now watch the trailer for the 1998 film version of Arthur Miller's greatest* moment, "The Crucible":

It's not a subtle theme or lesson, I admit, but right for the present day.

This is going to anger a lot of you, dear readers, and for that I apologize. But someone reasonable needs to write it, or say it: we are Witch Hunting two men in the NFL.

If you think this means I'm defending Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson, then I would politely wish a pox on your house, because this isn't about defending them as decent or good people. It is about fairness, selective justice, and bloodlust, and in these regards, we as a culture should be ashamed of ourselves, except we’re too busy judging others to remove the planks from our eyes. We are the lynch mob. We are The Ox-Bow Incident writ large.

Ray Rice was caught on camera hitting his wife, and we want to string him up, beat on him like a pinata, and preferably let him rot in some jail cell. At the end of the day, he didn't do a single thing some untold number -- can we just agree upon "hundreds"? -- of NFL players have done over the last 20 years. The only thing he did differently is be drunk or stupid enough to hit her in a casino elevator in the TMZ era. Burn the witch!

Wanna hang him? Fine. He did a horrible thing. But we’re acting like he's Patient Zero in an epidemic, like if we can just make enough of an example of this one guy, the disease will be cured.

Even more disturbing, we have expressed outrage that Roger Goodell didn't respond in measure with our own judgment until he saw the video of The Punch. And why are we outraged now, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, when the incident was first reported months ago? Because -- shocker -- we saw the video of The Punch. We are angry that Roger Goodell has reacted exactly the way our entire culture reacted: once seen, it cannot be downplayed or excused away.

And then there's Adrian Peterson, exacting a deranged and grotesque version of punishment some 75% of everyone over the age of 40 received at some point in their childhood, and we want him banned from the NFL forever and ever and ever. Or put to death. Burn the witch!

These are not exaggerations, by the way. There's people all over Twitter and Facebook with reactions about Peterson’s child abuse charge that make my description of “deranged and grotesque” read like excerpts from a 1952 Disney cartoon.

The simple act of me accusing the media and social media commenterati of hysteria risks making me appear as an apologist for a man who assaulted his 4-year-old child and called it “discipline.” That I take such a risk by writing anything shy of full condemnation of the man speaks -- screams -- to how binary our intellectual discourse has become. Someone must either Good (Adrian Peterson before these charges) or Evil (Adrian Peterson after these charges). Anyone who dares question these extremes in judgment, these absolutes and non-negotiables, is labeled Part of the Problem.

We’re picking and choosing our demons not with rational contemplation, but rather on the whims of the latest video or Facebook thread. We want to hang these two football players for acts of person-on-person violence while the Minnesota Vikings’ owner carries on about his business, while the Cleveland Browns’ owner carries on about his business of making more millions.

Hit a child? Burn the witch!
Embezzle or steal or defraud millions of dollars from people? Nothing to see here! Carry on! White collar crime!

Because it’s just not fun to watch TMZ video of someone defrauding people. It doesn’t feed our need to feel superior.

People might not like it, but Charles Barkley was right in his comments. Cris Carter was even more right in his, and Carter deserves the attention and praise for the level of emotion and righteous anger he expresses about the Peterson incident. (There’s an almost-reasonable breakdown of both here, including some insightful statistics and charts.)

But here’s the question Cris doesn’t answer when he talks so emotionally about his own upbringing: did his mother deserve to go to jail for her use of corporal punishment? What would the effect of such a consequence have been on him and his siblings had she been criminally charged for what she did?

I’ve spanked my children. Many close friends would disagree entirely with this choice.

I once grabbed my daughter’s arm so tightly in anger and frustration that I left the slight bruise mark from my thumb. When I was a kid, my friend Lance came to school bruised because he told his dad “That didn’t hurt” after the first round of a spanking.

At our dinner table as we discussed this topic, my eldest daughter said, “I’d rather you hit me than yell at me. I can still remember almost every time you yelled at me, but I don’t remember but one time you ever spanked me.”

And then: “Most physical wounds heal, but emotional ones don’t.”

To be sure, these are the comments of a daughter who hasn’t been permanently scarred with switches, or had her mouth stuffed with leaves, or been concussively knocked in the head for disobedience. These are the comments of a mostly well-treated daughter, physically (and, I’d like to think, emotionally) speaking.

But what if her words are still true? What if the anger and the yelling we express as parents do as much damage as those spankings? Will we as a society seek to criminalize anger? Or yelling? Will I find myself in jail one day because I shout something critical at my child? (Alec Baldwin is still making good money, to be sure, and I’m not sure how much higher up on the Decent Human Being Ladder I’d place him than Peterson or Rice.)

Is this really where we want to go with our judgments? Are we getting too comfortable with our own bloodlust in the guise of thinking we're good people calling for the guillotine?


Bob said...

There is no reason to ever hit a child. Peterson, for whom I have some sympathy, perpetuated a cycle of violence in his family. What was done to him, he did to his son. Someday, his son will probably do it, too.

troutking said...

Should we be surprised that a violent game attracts and creates violent players? Should we be surprised that a game that inflicts an immoral cost on players' health will immorally cover up immoral behaviors? We should not. I'm done with football.

Billy said...

@Bob - Agreed.

@trout - If you're not surprised, I only wonder why you have chosen this moment and these two incidents (among how many over the years and decades) as the moment to be done with football?

G. B. Miller said...

I'm pretty sure I was spanked as a child, but as a parent of two grown children, I found to get/make a memorable point, voice inflection was the key. I didn't do corporal punishment.

And honestly, I really don't see a correlation between violence in football and domestic violence/corporal punishment. If someone is predisposed/grew up in a household of violence, then perhaps yes, the cycle could continue. But to do a blanket generalization equating sports violence with domestic violence/corporal punishment hurts those who participate in violent sports yet manage to separate the professional life from the home life.

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