As if the life of Adrian Peterson couldn't get any worse, the Minnesota Viking is being ridiculed for having several children out of wedlock. Shaming is a truly vulgar American activity, but something that should be tempered by the fact that his 2-year-old son, whose existence he only recently found out, is dead.
Tyrese Ruffin died on Oct. 11 in Sioux Falls, S.D., from injuries he'd suffered from a beating dealt to him allegedly by his mother's boyfriend. The mother had only learned of the child's paternity a few months earlier and had recently contacted Peterson, who did not see Tyrese until the child was hooked to a life-support system.
Tyrese's death was destined to become a national source of speculation and contentious debate for several reasons.
First, of course, the biological father is a great football player.
Second, the life of children birthed to unwed mothers has been the subject of examination in this country -- by writers, social critics, politicians, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- for decades.
And third, like many issues in America, this one has racial overtones. According to the CDC, about 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock, compared with 50 percent of Hispanic children and 30 percent of white children.
For black athletes, particularly ones who grew up without fathers, having children out of wedlock continues to be a source of derisive humor. They are portrayed as adolescents who can't say no, much less put on a condom. And instead of being judged as individuals, they have become the most visible standard-bearers of the sociological phenomenon of the absent black father.
But having children out of wedlock is not a growing problem in the black community. The birth rate for unmarried black women is down by roughly 50 percent over the last 40 years.
And viewed in international context, this isn't really a black thing at all.
Consider Iceland, where the birth rate for unwed mothers, according to a New York Times story in 2009, was 66 percent. In Sweden, it was 55 percent. Iceland and Sweden aren't places with large black populations.
So let's push race to the side for a moment and concentrate on the socio-economic effects of children born outside of marriage.
In the United States, children born out of wedlock tend to be at or near the poverty line and are 77 percent more likely to be abused, according to the federal government's National Incidence Study. Boys who are raised in fatherless homes are more likely than their peers to develop emotional and behavioral problems, drop out of school, or spend time in prison.
In Sweden, by contrast, children born out of wedlock do just fine.
"In Sweden, you see very little variation in the outcome of children based on marital status. Everybody does fairly well," Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, told the New York Times in 2009. "In the U.S., there's much more disparity."
And that's because children born out of wedlock in the United States tend to be crippled by poverty.
Instead of focusing on Adrian Peterson, we should concentrate on the health, safety and potential of the millions of children born out of wedlock and into poverty in America.
That's no laughing matter.
Copyright Fred McKissack.
Photo: Flickr user Andy Malmin creative commons licensed.