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Monday, November 5, 2012

Youth sports, bullying and a story that warms the heart

“Bullying” has become an often-used term in recent years, and rightly so.  More and more people have stepped forward to try to, somehow, deal with a phenomenon that has actually, sadly, been around for generations. 

Years ago it wasn’t necessarily called “bullying”, but the impact was the same.  If you were somehow “different”, you were targeted, picked on.  It might be the way you “looked”.  (To the aggressor, any little physical feature would do.)  It could be your religious or ethnic background.  It could be your physical size.  It could be the way that you spoke, or where you came from.

Just about anything was fair game to those whose small minds and cruel hearts made it a twisted game.

The abuse came in many forms.  A child might be pushed around physically.  They may be ignored or talked about behind their back.  The attacks might have been verbal and constant.  They could be subtle or not subtle at all. 

When adults do this it carries no particular name.  It is simply seen as petty and mean-spirited.  When young people do it nowadays, it is called bullying.  And that’s exactly what it is.  And it does have to stop, however impossible a challenge that seems to be.

While more attention is, thankfully, paid to this sickness these days, it has always been a sad, ugly part of the human existence.  What causes youngsters to act out in this way—envy, discomfort, their own insecurities, anger, hatred— is a question no one can fully answer.  Regardless, what we now call bullying  remains one of our deadlier societal “diseases”—and one that we have not been able to cure.

A touching story from Rick Reilly at ESPN (click to see his piece) tells the tale of a young high school girl in Arizona who has been struggling to cope with “bullies” at school.  Her story is all the sadder, on the one hand, because though she is a sophomore in high school, her ability to connect with others is not like that of most kids in Grade 10.  Her level of comprehension is evidently more at a Grade 3 level.

As you will note in the story, at the end of the day, it is some of the school’s popular athletes who deal with her struggles in a passionate, touching manner.

In truth, it has been the experience of many people throughout generations—as far back as anyone can remember—that it has too often been the “cool” kids, the “popular” kids, especially the athletes in a school setting (whether it be elementary school, high school or college and university) who are the ones who pick on, ridicule and bully others—anyone who is “different” from them.

They use their group mentality to intimidate, threaten and ensure “silence” when silence is needed protect their own inexcusable behavior.  Yet ironically, many of these same athletes are often lauded publicly by their coach or school teachers who see them as “leaders”, all the while either willfully ignoring or being unaware of the nasty behavior that lurks behind the phony veneer of the popular athletes they trumpet as school leaders.

This story I am referring to today has a happy ending, however.  It took a mother’s direct intervention (after school authorities were incapable of handling the situation) and a positive response from the high school football team to make it happen, but the outcome has been an uplifting one for all concerned—except the bullies.

That the school’s football players were able to make things better for the young girl without resorting to a bullying mentality or approach themselves is encouraging in itself.  I invite you to check out the ESPN story.

We’re a long way from solving an issue that has been part of the human condition for far too long, but perhaps stories like this will embolden other “popular” young people, including young athletes, to take a stand and make a difference.

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