I hate bullies. My stomach turns to mush when I see them pop up in videos of coaches berating their players, or the latest story of a teenager that can’t stand the torment and ended their life, or in the comments section of the local newspaper or blog disguised as banter. Little bully snippets make me want to be a teacher again and teach kids OUT of that way of thinking before it’s too late. They makes me think hard about the friends I want to see around Miss L in her life growing up.
And they make me remember that anyone can be a bully at any time to anyone.
Will you pledge to end bullying with me? All it takes is your name and email address to show your support… nothing else.
These last few weeks, the Rutgers coaching situation brought up conversations of “character building” in sports. That being tough on your kids as a coach will make them tough. But bullying… it’s different. It tears apart your foundations even when you don’t want it to. It’s not one little incident but something that wears on you consistently and won’t go away.
I started playing softball when I was 9 years old and kept it up until high school. It was “the cool sport” for girls where I grew up. Everyone was fishing for a softball scholarship before they even got to high school, and my classmates built batting cages in their backyards and spent hundreds of dollars on weekly batting and pitching coaches. In the end some girls did get to play D1 ball, go to the Olympics, and many more barely got scholarships at D2 schools. I just liked playing the game, and being a part of the ballpark on a sunny Spring day.
That was, until I had a bully for a coach.
He was a father of a girl that was a year below me in school. I was taller than him at the time, so let’s say he was not over 5’8 and I weighed maybe 110 lbs. I was gangly at that point, but still was a decent player. I thought it was the year that I’d get a chance at being the lanky 1st baseman who was 6” taller than everyone on the field, but despite what I thought was a good effort, I was sent to the outfield with all the girls who were a year younger than me. And I did well playing left and center field, and batting consistently. But I didn’t have a lot of fun. The head coach would make little comments about any little mistake I made, even if I only made one that day. He’d use me as an example to the rest of the players of what not to do. And my love for the sport slowly started fading away.
Then came the spillover. I missed a call with the short stop during a game and a run scored in a game and we lost. It was a bad play on both our parts, which is why they have a stat for “errors” in the game. They happen. The next practice, my coach stood on the field and started hitting fly balls at the outfield non-stop and screaming at me to catch them. Sure we were rotating to catch them, but when it was my turn he’d hit it purposely short or over my head and SCREAM at me to get it. Just me. If I dropped one, he screamed louder. Then, after the drill and practice was over, he walked up to me and screamed obscenities in my face. I kept my calm in the moment and swallowed down every tear. I packed up my gear and walked the short two blocks home.
And I told my parents I wasn’t playing softball ever again. I didn’t want to go to school and see the faces of all my teammates, who probably thought I was as worthless as he did. I didn’t want to get into the batting box and strike out and meet his expectations. I wanted to give up and crawl into a corner and hide.
My parents were in shock when I explained why. I remember repeating the story because they just couldn’t hear what I said. They made calls that night, and the next week, and went to the board meeting to discuss what happened. They asked that the man be removed from coaching again. It didn’t happen. They encouraged and supported me to go back and play in spite of the coach because they didn’t want this ugly bully taking the game away from me. They didn’t want this coach to ruin my love of the game, but I couldn’t walk into that dugout or talk to him without shaking inside. No matter what he said, or any other coach said, I played with fear in my heart for that happening again. Logically, I knew he was a scared little bully of a man/father/coach. But as a kid, he took all elements of “fun” out of the game.
And all those people my parents talked to? They didn’t stand up for me. They stood up for this silly institution in our area and the little club that these fathers had created to get their daughters a softball scholarship. Heaven forbid the season be a little messed up, or someone be miffed, by removing a grown man who cussed out a little girl on a softball field.
As Miss L grows up, I know I can’t protect her at all times, or fix the world around her. But I’m taking a pledge today to against bullying in every form because I don’t want to repeat mistakes I’ve seen made in the past. I want her to live in a better world, and this is just one way toward that.
Thanks to TakePart for sponsoring today’s discussion.