Adrian Peterson: Celebrity Abuse



I cannot explain Elizabeth Hasselbeck or her analogy comparing NFL’s domestic violence scandals with the Obama administration’s handling of the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. All I can say is God bless her little pea-picking heart.

But child abuse, now that’s something I can speak to. Not as someone who suffered from it – I haven’t. But as someone who has spent a great deal of time researching child abuse (see Karly Sheehan: True crime story behind Karly’s Law), I have some insights about this whole Adrian Peterson child abuse situation. Peterson, Minnesota Vikings running back, was indicted for child abuse after taking a switch to his 4-year-old child’s bare buttocks.

Peterson denies that what he did was child abuse. He defends himself, says he was simply disciplining a child misbehaving and that, yes, he did get carried away in that discipline. But he insists, he never committed child abuse.

The court of public opinion has been swift and judgmental.

And, dare I say it?

Entirely hypocritical.

The only reason this is news at all is because Peterson is a celebrity athlete.

I have been stomping my feet and talking myself blue and posting awful photos and giving very real statistics about child abuse for the past five years, mostly to no avail. Far as I can tell, the court of public opinion doesn’t care if you are a child being abused if your father or mother isn’t a celebrity.

The most common refrain I hear whenever I tell anyone that I have written the true crime story behind the death of 3-year-old Karly Sheehan of Corvallis, Oregon is: Oh, I could never read something like that.

Translate: I don’t want to know. Please don’t tell me that children suffer far worse things than a switching.

When I tell audiences that one Houston hospital reported in 2010 that 30 percent of all their deaths were due to child abuse – more than cancer, more than heart attacks – audience members put their fingers in their ears and begin to chant: Nah-nah-nan-na. Nah-nah-nan-na. Hey-hey.

They don’t want to know.

When I tell them that Karly Sheehan did not come from a poor family, that everyone in her life had a higher education, that despite several DHS investigations, Karly endured ten months of torture before finally being beaten to death, nobody wants to hear it.

When she woke up that last morning of her life, Karly’s eye was ruptured. Her mother marked it up to an allergy.  She was not charged with any crime despite repeatedly putting her daughter into the hands of the man who killed her.

You want to see what child abuse looks like, I can show you some pictures.


Karly in November 2004 after she had been abused by her mother’s boyfriend. DHS ruled Karly had pulled out her own hair, had bruised herself. They reached this conclusion based on lies Karly’s mother told them and Karly’s doctor.

But here’s the thing, the general public, the same people screaming and throwing a conniption fit over a child being switched, they don’t want to see what children like Karly Sheehan suffered.

The only reason people have an opinion about Adrian Peterson is because he’s an NFL player. The focus isn’t on the child. The focus is on the celebrity.

Five children a day are dying due to child abuse. Five. On US soil.

I could tell you stories that would give you nightmares for years to come.

I could show you photos that you would never be able to erase from your mind.

Those photos of the scratches suffered by Peterson’s child, my Lord, that ain’t nothing. Nothing, I’m telling you.

I’m not defending Peterson on this matter. I’m only pointing out that the public is talking out both sides of its mouth. Condemning a man for switching his child while ignoring the thousands of children being beaten to a bloody pulp every single year in this country.

What if a roller-coaster at Disney World were flinging five children a day to their deaths? Can you imagine how long it would take the public to cry out and demand that Disney shut down? It would take only one day before all of Florida took to storming the gates. The public would never stand for five children killed in one day at Disney.

Yet, Florida has one of the highest child abuse rates in the nation.

Why do we tolerate in the public sector what we would never allow for in the private sector?

Oh. Yeah. Money. I forget.

Here’s some real life statistics for you:

  • In 2012, a nationally estimated 1,640 children died from abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.20 per 100,000 children in the population. Five times as many children died on US soil to child abuse as military service members who died in the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan that same year. Five times. Here on US soil. Children dying brutal, cruel deaths.
  • The State of Oregon has implemented new procedures which deem that children do better with parents, no matter how bad the parents or how bad the situation, than in foster care. Thus, they operate with a bifurcated mission: protect the child while leaving them in the same abusive situation. This ruling is likely is the result of a money issue more than what’s best for the child issue.


  • When Florida took this same approach, child deaths increased dramatically. The Miami Herald conducted their own investigation into the child abuse deaths in Florida – one of the highest in the nation and concluded:
  1. The number of deaths with prior contacts totaled at least 477, far more than child welfare administrators reported to the governor and Legislature. Lawmakers could have committed more money to address the problem had they known its full scope. Instead, they cut funding.
  2. The overwhelming majority of the children were 5 or younger, and slightly more than 70 percent were 2 or younger — in many instances, too young to walk, talk, cry out for help, run away or defend themselves.


By now, if you are still reading, your eyes have glassed over. You feel helpless. Child abuse exhausts you. What can you do about it? Other than ranting and raving whenever a celebrity athlete-of-the-week gets indicted for switching a child?

Well, you could become a CASA volunteer and advocate for better treatment of children.

You could donate to your local Children’s Advocacy Center, an independent organization that assesses for child abuse.

You could read Karly Sheehan and learn what to look for, and how to be a voice.

You could befriend the children in the neighborhood and their parents. Be engaged in your local community. Be a safe haven for children in need.

You could write letters to your legislators demanding that they do better by children.

Or you could just rant online about Peterson. That’s probably the easiest thing to do. Just be aware that it is also the one thing least likely to affect real change for children-at-risk.


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Karly Sheehan: True Crime Story behind Karly’s Law.


Book Karen

Letter to Urban Outfitters

Kent State


Dear Urban Outfitters:

I was nine years old in 1966 when my father, Staff Sgt. David P. Spears, was killed in Vietnam Ia Drang Valley. I can’t tell you all the ways in which his death altered the course of our lives, individually, and as a family. I tried to sum it up in my memoir AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (Wm. Morrow/HarperCollins). Perhaps you and your staff will take the time to read the book because it is clear that you do not have an institutional knowledge of the Vietnam War and its impact upon this nation.
Your Kent State top is done in such poor taste. I am stupefied by the sheer callousness that went into the marketing of such an item. What’s next – sweatshirts depicting the bloodbath of Sandy Hook?
I have taught the history of Kent State to students at university as part of a First Amendment course. Most of the students I’ve taught have no knowledge that protests against the Vietnam War led to deaths at Kent State. I assume this is the demographic you intended to “target” for your marketing campaign.
In so doing, you have taken a very sorrowful part of our nation’s history, and my family’s history, and the history for millions of Americans who served during the Vietnam War and trivialized it. Like a trinket hawker at the county fair, you have taken the bloodshed and turned it into blood money.
I hope you will reconsider your poor decision-making. I hope you will donate those proceeds to the Vietnam Wall Memorial Fund Education Center: For it is clear that we need to teach future generations the history of America’s War in Vietnam so they can avoid the type of embarrassing and hurtful missteps you have just made.

Karen Spears Zacharias
author/journalist/speaker Gold Star Daughter. Line 71 Panel 9E

Book Karen

Lessons from Muscle Shoals

coon dog cemetery

Muscle Shoals.

I’d venture to say most Americans of a certain age, that is to say those of us old enough to remember Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Muscle Shoals is one of those iconic southern towns that beckons writers and artists and musicians and devotees alike. I went there in my mind many a time. I went there for real a few years back. Ate me a fine barbecue sandwich in one of them local restaurants designed to attract tourists coming to pay their respects to the home of funky music. Even made a detour so I could visit the coon dog cemetery not too far over yonder.

They say Muscle Shoals is one of those mystical places where magic happens.

I’ve traveled enough back-roads across this great nation of ours to know that some places are more holy than others. Some towns more gritty than others. Some communities more hospitable than others. Some places more uptight than others. Some more loosey-goosey. Some more magical and I don’t mean in that Disney way but in that way of Jubilees.

Towns, like people, have their own personalities and character traits.  Cities, after all, are simply composites of the people who inhabit them. There are artistic people in every town. There are drunks in every town, too. But some cities have more drunks than artists. And some have more artists than drunks. I prefer the latter, but for the bulk of my adult life, I’ve lived in communities that have more cowboys and ranchers than drunks or artists.

The Wild West.

What can I say that Larry McMurtry hasn’t already?

When I was a girl growing up over yonder, Muscle Shoals was the place where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Puckett, Percy Sledge, Etta James and the Rolling Stones, among countless others, were gathering to make music. A certain kind of soulful music.

Hometown of the groove.

Rick Hall.

He’s what they call The Man around Muscle Shoals.

The fellow who, in the pursuit of becoming somebody better, made history happen for a whole lot of somebodies, and is still making history happen for a whole lot of somebodies.

You can learn all about Hall and his recording studio FAME by watching the documentary Muscle Shoals. 

I’m a devotee of a well-made documentary and this is one of them. I love a good story and Rick Hall has lived a good story.

But it was something he said at the crack-end of the documentary that has me up pondering when I ought to be sleeping.

Hall said that he didn’t care if the drummer fell out of his seat when recording as long as he didn’t miss a beat.

Imperfections gives us our humanity, Hall said.

Hall isn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t strive for perfection.  Lord. A. Mercy. No way would Hall ever say that. The man is renowned for his pursuit of perfection. Even his most ardent fans attest that Hall ain’t an easy man to love. His drive toward perfection is relentless.

Still, it isn’t a contrary thing to say that as one strives toward perfection one also ought to embrace the imperfections in others and in ourselves. Our imperfections, they put us in touch with our humanity.

When we are unwilling, or unable to tolerate another person’s imperfections, we deny them their humanity. 

There are bitter things we all wrestle with in this life. Disappointments. Betrayals. Brokenness.

Hall has his share of all of it.

At some point we have to move beyond all that and forgive, he says.


And everybody else.

Maybe even the God who created us










Book Karen

Cold River of Sorrow

I took the girls to Hawaii in Sept. 2001 for their high school graduation present. We'd spent 10 days reliving the history of life with my father and the impact of war. On our last morning in Hawaii we woke to the news of the attack at the Pentagon. My girls who had never known war became the generation of people who have lived with unceasing wars ever since.

I took the girls to Hawaii in Sept. 2001 for their high school graduation present. We’d spent 10 days reliving the history of life with my father and the impact of war. On our last morning in Hawaii we woke to the news of the attack at the Pentagon. My girls who had never known war became the generation of people who have lived with unceasing wars ever since.

by Karen Spears Zacharias

On Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, my daughters and I sat beneath a banyan tree at Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii and watched an aged vet buried. Gray-haired men with bent backs lifted the flag off the casket.

My daughters, raised in Oregon, and far from military installations, had never seen a military funeral. For me, the daughter of a soldier killed in action, that folded flag was entirely too familiar.


The last place I lived with my father was in Hawaii. He shipped out of Hawaii in December of 1965. Grandpa Harve lived with us when Daddy was stationed in Hawaii. He was living with us in Rogersville, TN in July, 1966 when we got word of Daddy's death in Vietnam.

The last place I lived with my father was in Hawaii. He shipped out of Hawaii in December of 1965. Grandpa Harve lived with us when Daddy was stationed in Hawaii. He was living with us in Rogersville, TN in July, 1966 when we got word of Daddy’s death in Vietnam.


Tuesday we woke early to catch the sunrise over Diamond Head. We were due to fly out that morning. As the girls posed for photos, clusters of people gathered on the jetty.

A big-boned woman sat on the rocks, elbows resting on her knees. We stood near her, unaware that death clouds had exploded over New York City, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

“Have you heard?” the lady asked. She had a Brooklyn accent.

“Heard what?” I asked.

“Somebody bombed the World Trade Center.”

I didn’t flinch. I was a reporter and used to headline news. Besides, the World Trade Center had been bombed before.

“Do they know who did it?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “But they bombed the Pentagon, too.”

I sucked air, as if she’d socked me in the gut. Every Army brat knows the Pentagon is Holy Ground.

“All planes have been grounded, nationwide. There are no flights in or out,” she told me.

Looking up, I noticed the lavender sky was as still as a dead father laid out for the viewing.

Thirteen years hence, it feels like I’ve been sitting in Oregon’s Umatilla River while spring runoff cuts a sharp course for the Columbia. I’ve been immersed in a cold river of sorrow.

There’s the young war widow in North Carolina who spends sleepless nights peeking out from behind blinds, listening for intruders who never come. There was the Vietnam veteran in Tennessee who, even on his deathbed, railed against demons who’d resurfaced in the infrared midnight of new wars. There’s the Oregon mother at the end of the dirt drive, remembering when the UPS driver carried her mischievous son home after the tyke took off down the blacktop. The last time her boy came home it was in a flag-draped coffin.

Lillian learned of her daughter’s death by watching the Today Show. “I knew when they showed where the plane hit that it was Marjorie’s office,” Lillian says. The 87-year-old lives alone back beyond the pecan grove; alone except for the memories of the daughter she grieves more with each passing day.

I met Miss Lillian of Pine Mountain, Georgia after the publication of the memoir on my father. Lillian, also a journalist, told me the story of how she and her husband learned of their daughter's death at the Pentagon.

I met Miss Lillian of Pine Mountain, Georgia after the publication of the memoir on my father. Lillian, also a journalist, told me the story of how she and her husband learned of their daughter’s death at the Pentagon.

And there are the not-yet-etched names of the dead and maimed servicemen and women who turned their faces bravely toward the fight, because for them, honor and love is about sacrifice.

You’d think such weeping would rust an old soul, roughen a heart and make it coarse. But it hasn’t. Instead it has freed me to live life more fully, aware that if such things as 9/11 and countries at war in the name of a God abused aren’t worth crying over, somebody, pray tell me, what is?

Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of the memoir After the Flag Has Been Folded (William Morrow), among other books. 


Book Karen

Spiritual Refugees


I keep thinking about the families.

The ones caught up in the Driscoll/MarsHill debacle.

I read the news stories, the blog posts, the Twitter feed. I take note of the wise-cracks, the I-told-you-sos, the self-righteous parading about, and I can’t help but think about Mark Driscoll’s kids.

I remember sitting in the backyard of a pastor’s home in Portland some years ago and listening to a writer/speaker tell her story about the way a church treated her pastor father over some sort of disagreement and how it caused her to have a crises of faith, even yet.

I remember a boy I dated once, also a pastor’s son, telling me that he was so tired of trying to please everybody. “I’ve grown up trying to meet everyone’s expectations,” he said.  He was only 23 at the time and already so weary with life and so disillusioned with faith.

These are the voices I hear when I read the headline news stories and the snarky blog posts deriding Mark Driscoll. I have written my own share of snarky blog posts about Driscoll. Sadly. Because, here, now, I see the brokenness that is the lives of so many, I am sorry I ever said what I thought about Driscoll, about Mars Hill. Because here, right now, as I consider the people I know and love who have lost their jobs this past week, I don’t feel any sense of rightness about any of this.  I only feel sorrow for everyone connected to Mars Hill.

Thousands of lives are being affected. Thousands of people are now being displaced. Religion News Service reported earlier this week that 30-40 percent of the staff at Mars Hill will be cut. Where will their church home be now?

All those people, all of them serving in some ministerial capacity, now out beating the streets looking for a job.

Wonder how easy it will be to get a job in ministry in the Seattle area, where they have homes, families, lives? Will their Mars Hill connection/resume make it more difficult than ever to get a job in ministry?

These are the thoughts I have been having as I read the snide remarks on Social Media, and the so-called dialogue that is often nothing more than a cover for self-righteous vindication.

It is true what they say, you know. That Christians shoot their own wounded. In the military we call that Friendly Fire. It’s a ridiculously tragic misnomer.

I pray for Driscoll’s children. I pray for the children of all those Mars Hill families facing displacement.

I pray that they don’t lose faith. I pray that they are loved dearly through these hard days. I pray that the fears these families are facing –  fears of being jobless, and without health insurance, and facing the unknown of how will they pay their bills next month and the month after that – will be a brief season of growing and learning and remembering.

I know God will be faithful.

It’s not God I worry about.

It’s all the innocent people caught up in the politics of a badly-managed mega-church.

So many lives displaced.

Spiritual refugees, if you will.

I can’t get those spiritual refugees out of my mind.

I pray that in the midst of all this, they don’t lose heart.


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? ’cause I need more room for my plasma TV. Zondervan

Book Karen