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.


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


AF Roger

about 8 years ago

Thank you. Genuinely abusive and violent home environments are also MAJOR contributors to subsequent homelessness and chemical dependencies among teens and adults. And the default first response to homelessness in most communities is to make them go away by being inhospitable. (It has historical precedent in the stories of Jesus' feeding of the 5K. The disciples' knee-jerk reaction to all the hungry people is to "send them away.") If we truly want to send the PROBLEM away, rather than the human beings involved, then we need to focus most of our energy on the front end of the problem. As living beings, we have no higher calling and responsibility in life than the care, nurture and socialization of our own young. The electronic age has allowed us to substitute the fantasy world of fame and celebrity for the world of community and neighbors. To jump back a few years, think back to the idolatrous sea of wilting flowers, candles and teddy bears left at the palace gates when Princess Diana was killed in an entirely avoidable car crash. Almost nobody who left their tokens could have known her personally, nor she them. By focusing so much on this mythical creature, whom did all these people fail to see all around them? How is this pattern repeated again and again? Simple questions for us to ask ourselves and respond to: 1) What are people for? [thanks, Wendell Berry] 2) Who really matters to us in the places where we live and work and sleep? 3) What are we doing about that? 4) Why or why not?


Bob Welch

about 8 years ago

Well said. And, please people, a great place to learn this stuff up close and personal is by reading Karen's book. It's courageous reporting and wonderful writing.


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 8 years ago

Thanks, Bob. Means a lot coming from you.



about 8 years ago

I'm reading your book on Karly as I write this. There is absolutely nothing I can say about Karly's mother except she is just as evil as her boyfriend. I understand your sympathies lie with her father, David. He explained his fear of deportation as he was under suspicion in the months prior to Karly's death, his work and school load, etc. I can't get past the fact that for months he saw Karly's hair was being ripped out to the point of baldness, the bruises, black eyes, her overwhelming tiredness, her hunger, and her terror. Worst of all, her pleading for him not to take her back to her mother that last week before she was murdered. During these last months of her life, he drops Karly off at her maternal grandparents for a visit with a hat on her head to cover her baldness without a word about it because he "didn't want to worry them". What did he think they would feel and think when they saw her bald head? And what did they feel and think? The doctor and Child Protective Agency was obviously stupidly fooled with Sarah's stories about Karly pulling her hair out, hitting and scratching her own face due to stress over her moving in with the boyfriend. That's in itself inexcusable (because when questioned all abusers and those complicit in the abuse tell the truth...puhleeze!) but how does a loving father who knows his daughter, knows the ex wife, knows all this coincided with the new boyfriend, turn a blind eye? Although you paint the father, David, as completely innocent in your book, in my opinion, he is not. That baby was failed by everyone. Father and grandparents included. It's sickening.



about 7 years ago

I so agree that karly was failed by Everyone! It is extremely devastating to think of how this baby suffered and gave so many signals with adults failing her everwhere she went! The absolute horror and loneliness she must of felt! This will forever haunt me and taught me to be more observant and aware .



about 8 years ago

Oh my god this is so sick. All I've read in just 15 minutes from seeing your book on Amazon for the first time, Karen you have an amazing way of making people sit up and think and take responsibility for what they do next. That poor little baby and although I am yet to read your book, although I'm going to start in a minute, I'm inclined to agree with Bonnie in thinking that anyone and everyone involved in Karly's life let her down. Thank God for you Karen and your courage and bravery for not stopping. Please keep up the good work and tell me we can do here in England to make a difference


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 8 years ago

Thank you for being brave enough to read Karly's story. There are several suggestions in the back of the book that speak to how each of us can make a difference in our own community. Of course, I think Karly's Law ought to be implemented as a national law. I am unfamiliar with the laws of England, but perhaps there is a component of Karly's Law that would be helpful to you. Thanks for your kind words.


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