Detroit Lions' star Reggie Bush's comments about “harshly” disciplining his 1-year-old daughter while taking care not to leave bruises are troubling enough to potentially merit an investigation, Michigan child welfare advocates told FoxNews.com.
The mercurial running back clarified his comments on Wednesday, saying his statements to New York’s WFAN a day earlier were taken out of context. He denied spanking the girl, Briseis Avagyan Bush, but acknowledging disciplining her “a bit” when she acts inappropriately.
“I think the way I discipline my children, my daughter, is private and I should have kept it private,” Bush said. “Obviously, some of the words were taken out of context and that’s fine, it happens all the time. That’s really all I have to say.”
One child welfare advocate contacted by FoxNews.com characterized Bush’s initial comments as “disturbing,” while another acknowledged that they could possibly be interpreted to necessitate an investigation.
Lori Antkoviak, executive director of the Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center in Michigan, said an investigation could potentially already be under way.
“I could see this going both ways, I could see it interpreted both ways,” Antkoviak told FoxNews.com on whether she thought the circumstances meet the criteria for a probe. “They may very well be doing an investigation, but you wouldn’t know because it’s confidential.”
Bush’s comments — which follow the indictment of former Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who has admitted using a tree branch to discipline his 4-year-old son — were “very concerning,” Antkoviak said.
“It’s a very concerning statement because if you’re only trying to not leave bruises, that means you understand you have a huge physical advantage,” she said. “To punish her or discipline her harshly, that statement is also very concerning. Discipline for a child is to show what’s appropriate and inappropriate in a loving manner to show them how to act.”
Antkoviak said she has yet to find a parent who, while incorporating corporal punishment, did not harm the child.
“Any time boundaries are set for a child, they need to be set with love,” she said. “But those boundaries should be set so they know what they can do within those boundaries.”
For children as young as Bush’s daughter, Antkoviak recommended redirecting them when behavior goes astray.
“Pick out a toy, pick out a book,” she said. “A lot of children who are acting out are really seeking time and attention from their caregivers.”
Children that young likely don’t even realize what they’re doing is wrong, she said.
“Parents are busy and I understand that, but sometimes you just need to redirect,” Antkoviak said. “They’re not going to understand that they’re getting smacked for a certain behavior. But starting to tell them ‘no’ at a very young age and redirecting is a better course.”
Tom Knapp, coordinator of the Michigan chapter of the National Children’s Alliance, said Bush's comments are "concerning" to his organization.
"He’s obviously made some statements and tried to withdraw them," Knapp said. "No one would dispute that parents can reasonably discipline their children, so long as there’s no physical harm. The primary concern needs to be the emotional and physical well-being of the child."
Knapp said any comments like those made by Bush are “disturbing,” but said child welfare authorities must consider the totality of the situation before potentially launching an investigation.
Reversing course on Wednesday, Bush said he does not utilize corporal punishment, which roughly 70 percent of Americans said they support in 2010 and 2012, down from about 84 percent in 1986.
“Obviously, I’m not going to be spanking a 1-year old girl, but we do discipline her a bit,” Bush said. “There’s this thing where, if she doesn’t like something or you say something to her that she doesn’t like, she will take a little swing at you. We’re already starting to implement little things such as talking to her and saying ‘that’s not OK,’ and stuff like that. I think people took it too far and thought that I said I was doing much worse. That’s not the case.”
Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Human Services, said he was precluded from saying anything about any individual or family under the state’s Child Protection Law. The criterion to investigate possible abuse, he said, includes abuse or the threat of abuse that can lead to injury, abuse involving a child or if the person perpetrating the alleged abuse is the caregiver of the child.
Bush, 29, also addressed the controversy on Twitter.