The Culture of Spanking: Abuse or Discipline?

Melissa Mahler of Pro Player Insiders hosts this discussion with athletes and leading experts on the culture of spanking. Who was spanked and why?  Is race a factor? What is the impact of spanking? How do we stop beating our kids?

Tony Richardson, former NFL player; Tyree Washington, world champion in the 400 meter; and Craig McEwen, former NFL player, share their personal experiences with a belt or switch.  Andrew Willis, CEO of Stop Abuse Campaign;  Asadah Kirkland, author of Beating Black Kids; and Robbyn Peters Bennett Psychotherapist and Child Mental Health Specialist help us understand how spanking impacts children then and when they are adult and, most importantly, how we can change the culture and stop beating our kids.

“It was the leather belt, and extreme, so there was no level of ok this was a misdemeanor, a 5 yard penalty a 10 yard penalty, it was all personal fouls,” said former NFL player Craig McEwen when talking about the beatings he received when he was child.

“I was spanked and beaten. My dad was a military man, a long-time Vietnam veteran, so my house was very strict and very disciplined. My dad raised four boys and two girls and we got spankings. We got whooped. There were times where we had to get our own switch from the tree. The situation with Adrian Peterson wasn’t too far from how I was raised,” said Tony Richardson, a former NFL player who played with Peterson.

Is there a cultural relationship between spanking and race? Asadah Kirkland the author of Beating Black Kids says, “I wrote [my book] primarily because I’m black. That’s the bottom line. I’m black, that’s what I know. That’s what I’m an expert in. Outside of that, in the black community, we do see spanking as a cultural norm and if we lived in the south that’s how we raised our children.”

beating black kids book kirkland

“My mother and my grandmother raised me. All my family was from the south and even though I was born and raised in California, I got raised as if I was in the south. I got whoopings,” says Tyree Washington a multi World Champion in the 400-meter. “I had to get the switch from the tree … and if I cried the beating was even worse.”

McEwen is not from the south or black. He grew up in New York City and was the first-born son of two Scottish immigrants. He said, Anywhere we had gone at any given time my dad was ready with the belt, the leather belt, and it was ready to come off and undone and get into any action with it at any point. He was able to dominate and basically get me to be submissive and be seen and not heard.”

As adults, balancing parents love or good intentions with the physical and psychological pain they inflicted can be difficult. More often than not, the reflections are made through rose-colored glasses.

“For me, it set me straight because I was in an environment where it was very gang-ridden. My mother and my grandmother wanted to make sure that I understood that if I was going to continue to make bad decisions, I would end up in jail, prison, or dead,” said Washington. “I’ve been to many funerals growing up and I’ve seen many of my friends die. They didn’t have that difference in their life. I know that the term corporal punishment seems like a harsh term, but I believe in discipline.”

Richardson said, “My dad is my life hero just from the fact that there’s no way I could have been fortunate enough to play in the NFL for 17 years, have two college degrees, and have the discipline I have in my life if I didn’t have that structure.”

“He would speak to me in a Braveheartlike voice and say ‘lad this is how you do it in the old school, this is how you make it, this what a man’s got to do to be a man,’” McEwen’s father would say before a beating.

Kirkland says she wrote her book “because people have stories about how they were beat and they talk about how it made them better, but when they were children they were not saying that. When they were children, there was some resentment, some hatred, some sadness, some confusion.”

“My father reigned and defined everything. I was dominated. I’d feel alone,” said McEwen. “Even though the physical wounds may heal and the pain may subside, the psychological wounds and if you will the images and the thoughts that he would create that would come to you in certain moments and last for a lifetime.”

“When you hit [children] it has an incredible affect on their brain functioning, and because the brain grows in a sequential way, it’s very cascading,” said Robin Peters Bennett, a psychotherapist and child mental health therapist. “There are early experiences of having a stress arousal after they’ve been hit as a child where they begin to become very frightened of you. It actually affects the architecture and ongoing development of the brain.”

“I was beaten as a child. As a father I’m ashamed to say I spanked both of my kids. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. I wish I had read the research that I’ve read now,” said Willis.

“We were raised this way and we are all the things that we are,” said Kirkland. Peters-Bennett added, “I think what we are looking at here is a bigger issue of violence and the effects of violence and the trans-generational experience of violence, and how that gets passed down through fear-based parenting because the parent is worried tremendously that the child will not benefit in the environment and they will be harmed if they don’t have the right kind of respect and the right kind of attitude towards adults.”

But what can happen now if we do something better? If instead of throwing blows to our kids we give them power and show them encouragement and love? “That creates a different type of person,” said Kirkland. “We don’t have to succumb to the same ways that people have reared us.”

About the panel:

Craig Eugene McEwen

Is a former tight end in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers. He is active in speaking out against hitting your kids and shares his personal experience with others in hopes of making a difference.

Tony Richardson

Tony played in the NFL for sixteen seasons and is considered one of the best fullbacks in NFL history. He played college football for Auburn University and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1994. Richardson is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and played for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, and New York Jets.

Tyree Washington

Tyree has won many medals over the course of his professional career including the 400 meters event at the Outdoor National Championships in Indiana, Bronze at the Outdoor World Championships in Athens, Greece. At the end of 1997, Washington, a novice to the event, was ranked 4th in the world in the 400- meter category. He is also the founder of Killaroid an organization focused on keeping athletes free of all drugs and steroids.

Asadah Kirkland 

The author of “Beating Black Kids,” is on a crusade to end corporal punishment in America—starting with the Black community. Asadah’s book forces parents, social workers,  students and educators to take a close look at the physical and psychological pain inflicted upon children throughout childhood, while providing them with the tools they need to create better outcomes.

Andrew Willis

Andrew is the founder and CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign. Stop Abuse Campaign is dedicated to the prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences through public education and public policy. They support evidence based practices that accomplish this, and thereby spare the next generation from needless suffering. Their priority is preventing abuse from starting. Andrew is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and suicide. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences and blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign.

Robbyn Peters Bennett

Robbyn is a psychotherapist and child mental health specialist who provides long-term, insight oriented psychotherapy to adults with an analytic depth approach and a developmental foundation. She specializes in the field of trauma, and integrates her understanding of neuropsychology, appreciating trauma as an insult to both the psyche and the brain. Robbyn has completed NMT Training Certification through the Phase II level with the Child Trauma Academy.

Melissa Mahler

Melissa is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pro Player Insiders, an official licensed partner of NFL Players.  She is on the board of the National Football Professional Wives Association and a leader in the sports and philanthropy. She co-hosts a radio show that focuses on taking the top headlines and moving past the sensationalism to make a difference. Recently, Melissa was recognized for her efforts by being selected as a delegate to the first United Nations Summit on Media and Social Impact.

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