A comic’s guide to the Adrian Peterson story

As you watch Jon Stewart’s takedown of the Minnesota Vikings, which he delivered last night, try to recall the assurances of politicians during the stadium debate and Super Bowl 2018 effort that having an NFL team would give Minnesota a national reputation and help “put it on the map.” This isn’t what they had in mind.

“You can’t do something to a 4-year-old, that you’re not allowed to do to a 300 pound lineman in helmet and pads,” he said.

“Actual Vikings don’t treat their children like that.”


Yesterday, the Wilf family uttered “get this right” more than two dozen times in announcing that Peterson was off the team for now.

“An NFL running back left railroad tracks on a 4-year-old’s legs,” Stewart noted. “This isn’t Fermat’s last theorem.”

On a more serious note, the Houston Chronicle scored an interview with Peterson’s mother and provided an answer to a nagging question around Peterson: How many kids does he have?

But she said she’s sure that was never her son’s intent, especially after he had to deal with the death nearly a year ago of one of his own children. Peterson’s 2-year-old son, Tyrese Ruffin, died from severe head injuries. A man who was dating that boy’s mother was indicted on a murder charge in October 2013 and is expected to go to trial next month.

Now Jackson finds herself wanting to protect her extended family — Peterson has six children from different mothers – and concerned about what the future holds for her eldest son.

For nearly a week, the Peterson story has circled a difficult component: race and religion. Today in the New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson went there.

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit.

Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

If beating children began, paradoxically, as a violent preventive of even greater violence, it was enthusiastically embraced in black culture, especially when God was recruited. As an ordained Baptist minister with a doctorate in religion, I have heard all sorts of religious excuses for whippings.
Yet secular black culture thrives on colorful stories of punishment that are passed along as myths of ancient wisdom — a type of moral glue that holds together varying communities in black life across time and circumstance. Black comedians cut their teeth on dramatically recalling “whoopings” with belts, switches, extension cords, hairbrushes or whatever implement was at hand.

Even as genial a comic as Bill Cosby offered a riff in his legendary 1983 routine that left no doubt about the deadly threat of black punishment. “My father established our relationship when I was 7 years old,” Mr. Cosby joked. “He looked at me and says, ‘You know, I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, cause I’ll make another one look just like you.’ ”

“Adrian Peterson’s brutal behavior toward his 4-year-old son is, in truth, the violent amplification of the belief of many blacks that beatings made them better people, a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice in younger generations,” he writes.