Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case exposes things that should be kept private

“My client, on behalf of herself and their son, wishes to express her extreme outrage at the invasion of their privacy that has occurred through the publication of highly confidential and private data obtained regarding them by the press without their permission or consent,” the statement issued by attorney Kelly C. Dohn stated.  “My client is hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file.”

The pictures of her 4-year-old son stirred the rage of a mother.  His small body tarnished by a beating should have remained private.  Those pictures became public because of the man accused of child abuse. 

Adrian Peterson, the superhero like running back of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, has been charged with causing injury to a child under the age of 14. Peterson is accused of hitting his son with a wooden spoon.  Numerous media outlets decided to release the photos of the alleged injuries, and the Minnesota Vikings responded, albeit late, by deactivating Peterson while the matter is resolved.

The public outcry, and the response from the NFL and Minnesota Vikings, follows the repercussion of arguably the greatest sports bungle of all-time – the handling of Ray Rice. The NFL’s leniency with Rice was followed by the release of a video that forced the league to alter its position.  The long list of player misconduct has the NFL grappling to repair its reputation as a league sculpted with abusers.

The outcry of the 4-year-old allegedly abused by Peterson reminds us of the ethics that shape the way we report on these types of cases.  Our thirst for more information, and pictures to verify our suppositions, should always be met with hesitancy when the information becomes a violation of privacy. A mother’s plea for silence should never be minimized by the public thirst for more.

A mother has the right to request that pictures of her battered child not be made public.  Raising a child is complicated enough. Doing so when the identity and nature of injuries are made public muddles the work of parenting even more. A child shouldn’t have to witness his pictures circulating through social media.  Parents shouldn’t have to protect a child from viewing their picture on the news.

The nature of abuse should be hidden from public view.  These are private matters that require discretion on the part of those challenged to report the news. 

There are times when ethics forces us to use caution. The common sense call demands that someone in the newsroom yell, “that’s no one’s damn business!”

Be it the video of Janay Rice being slugged in an elevator, or the pictures of a 4-year-olds bruised body, some things should be left for those impacted most to ponder. Both cases present implications beyond the individuals involved, yet both present the victims in ways that make it more difficult for them to overcome.  No woman should be forced to encounter the public clamor related to those images.  No mother and child should be forced to face the pictures of a minor thrust on the scene of public exhibition.

It’s none of your business.

It magnifies the abuse of those abused.

It places a private conversation within the context of public debate.

It makes a private matter about more than the consequences of those involved.  It feeds our urge to conjure societal evils. 

So, as much as we relish connecting the collective dots – the story is not limited to the NFL.  This is a story about the alleged abuse of a 4-year-old who has a mother seeking to protect her child from further abuse.

So, back off.

Let  mama do what mothers do best.



  1. I have not seen the pictures in question nor read anything but headlines about this case. I think I instinctively side with you very salient point.

    That said, while I read your piece, in the background of my thoughts were all the problems with public opinion and therefore of public dialog and ultimately social progress when there is room for doubt in the presentation of the evidence for wrong-doing. It seems it is always the case that incidents involving police abuse (not a private matter I assume we can agree) have missing parts of video or pictures that invite specious "what ifs." It may be that the pictures not seen can be held against us as a public.

    No lack of respect for your well-stated argument though, and I agree the public should back off. I just hope that since those pictures are out there, we use them as a society to improve life for all families and not to harm this one.

  2. CK, he is a minor. At best, they should not have published his name or his face! Please tell me they didn't (even though the information is easy enough to track down). What a tragedy! Thanks for sharing.