My desk in the sixth grade was in a classroom next to the principal’s office, which he used when he wasn’t teaching us in the mornings. He was big and scary, and he rarely offered a smiling face, at least not one that I remember.
Most afternoons, our teacher was a woman who was gentle and kind by nature. It was a relief to welcome someone to class whom we didn’t fear.
I don’t know what the principal did after lunch except when students – always boys, as I recall – were sent to his office to explain their bad behavior. You could hear the exchange of dialogue knowing that no explanation would prevent the inevitable paddling.
Lo, these many years later, I still can hear it: The student being told to bend over, then the paddle striking his backside, which made a popping sound. The child would let out a cry, and the principal would swat him again.
Everything would stop in our classroom. There wasn't a sound until the punishment stopped and we heard a whimpering boy walking away.
Thank goodness, I was never in the principal's office. But fear of the all-too-frequent administerings of corporal punishment has vividly stuck with me all these years. It was bad, though not as frightful as stories I heard from students who attended the Catholic school on the next block about how the nuns punished those caught talking in class.
That’s how it was in those days: There was a painful price for acting up in class.
Times have changed so much over the years, but the debate over corporal punishment – normally administered by parents since schools largely have discontinued the practice – remains unsolved.
I thought it was a violent act then, and I have not changed my mind over the years. Others I know felt differently and still do.
Those memories came rushing back when I first heard about Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's suspension by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Peterson's indictment in Montgomery County, Texas, for using a switch to whip his 4-year-old son. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced, misdemeanor charge of reckless assault.
For a man who stands 6-feet-1 and weighs a muscular 217 pounds, the actions that drew blood from the boy were more than inappropriate, they were sadistic. Peterson was suspended by the league for six games, then somewhat shockingly saw his ban extended through the season and well into next year.
That ruling called into question, once again, Goodell’s handling of the matter.
The commissioner has been outstanding at making the NFL a highly profitable business operation. The same cannot be said of how he adjudicates player personnel problems, especially those involving social and cultural issues.
In the last year alone, Goodell has dealt with matters related to hazing, sexual assault and child abuse. Not once has he handled these serious problems, which left individuals hurt, or the NFL’s image very well.
Goodell seemed slow to act in the case involving Jonathan Martin and his harassment at the Miami Dolphins camp, followed by the violent attack by the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Race on his wife, and now the penalty for Peterson.
He is a league official searching for ways to deal with issues far outside the realm of professional football. They are difficult calls - ones that provide little or no history to draw upon - and he has bungled them like a fumbled handoff.
It’s difficult to disagree with NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith who observed that Goodell’s governing style is “making things up as he goes along.”
Goodell was at his weakest when he said that Peterson had failed to show proper remorse after punishing his son. This assessment comes from the same man who offered a public apology of his own and admitted he “screwed it up” in originally suspending Rice for only two games.
Consistency isn’t part of Goodell’s leadership package.
Resolving complex social issues, many rooted in long accepted practices, is never easy. Sadly, Goodell has failed miserably in showing the country a better way.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at email@example.com.