Sports Bullying: ESPN Donates More Than $1M To Combat It
Bullies want to put people in their place. Outliers and trailblazers get crushed. Those who look different or sound different are forced to fit in. But a girl who grew up on the North Shore of Oahu refused to fit in, and her courage paid off.
Jordyn Barratt, 20, is a professional skateboarder who has won medals in competitions around the world. She’s spent her life falling off skateboards and surfboards, getting back up and never giving up on her dream. Barratt was the only girl practicing in the skate park where she grew up, and she was a tomboy. She was bullied for her blatant disregard for gender norms.
“I would get teased for my name, or for how I dressed because I dressed like a boy,” Barratt said. “But I’ve taken that and tried to turn it into a positive thing.”
Bullying — aggressive, repetitive behavior that creates an imbalance in power — is prevalent in the world of athletics. Part of what makes sports bullying so difficult to confront is that athletes are trained to be aggressive in repeated practices toward the goal of tipping the balance of power in their favor.
Barratt teamed up with ESPN for the Shred Hate initiative, a program that aims to end bullying in schools. The initiative is run by No Bully, a nonprofit that trains teachers and other school officials how to spread student compassion and eradicate bullying and cyberbullying.
Patch has been focusing on bullying and cyberbullying in a national advocacy reporting project, “The Menace of Bullies.” Statistics show one in three U.S. students are bullied, and as many as 59 percent of U.S. students experience some form of cyberbullying, according to findings last year by the Pew Research Center. The National Association of School Psychologists says about 160,000 kids stay home from school every day to avoid their bullies.
Barratt shared her story in an ESPN Shred Hate video and she’s spoken at schools in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Barratt has a message for young girls who are trying to break into male-dominated sports: “Do what you love and do what feels right. It’s really hard, but don’t listen to what other people have to say. Do what’s in your heart.”
ESPN launched the Shred Hate initiative in January 2017 at X Games Aspen, and the program has since reached nearly 90,000 students.
Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship, said the company chose to support No Bully after talking to X Games athletes who were bullied while growing up.
“They came back to us and said that — believe it or not — they were skateboarding while everyone else was playing football and many of them got bullied for that,” Martinez said, adding some X Games athletes also face racism and homophobia.
“I have to tell you I am overwhelmed by how important Shred Hate is for the athletes, like Chloe Kim and Gus Kenworthy, who have been bullied,” Martinez said.
Kim is a four-time X Games gold medalist. In 2018, she became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal in the women’s halfpipe. But her journey hasn’t been an easy one — as a Korean American, she faced racism growing up.
Kenworthy, who won the silver medal in men’s slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, came out as gay in an interview with ESPN in 2015. After facing homophobia, he wanted to help other bullying victims by sharing his story.
In Kenworthy’s home state of Colorado, LGBTQ students are bullied more often than their heterosexual peers, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Almost one-third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported being bullied on school property in the previous year, compared to 16 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.
“Unfortunately, bullying happens in the locker room and in and around sports, so inclusion and access is a big issue for a number of reasons — whether it’s economics, whether it’s your race, whether it’s your sexuality,” Martinez said.
ESPN spent two years looking for an anti-bullying organization that had a proven track record of making a difference in schools, Martinez said.
“The success of the No Bully program is really about getting it into schools and having youths and teachers feel as though it’s authentic to their school,” Kenworthy said. “One of the really important strengths of this is it’s a community-built model.”
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No Bully works with the school’s community and listens to a wide range of people while implementing its process, he said.
Not only has ESPN contributed more than $1 million to No Bully over the past four years, the company has also worked to connect the nonprofit to other companies and groups that can help No Bully to grow.
Kathy Grey, No Bully’s vice president of education, said the nonprofit began in 2003 with a small group of educators, attorneys and psychologists.
“We wanted to build a kinder and more compassionate world through ending our crisis of bullying, harassment and violence in schools and online,” Grey said. “Since we’ve been counting, we’ve had a more than 90 percent success rate in eliminating bullying in schools.”
The organization has worked with thousands of students in more than 300 U.S. schools. Through Shred Hate, schools use the No Bully System, a guide for school leaders, teachers and sports administrators.
“There’s so much pressure around sports and succeeding, particularly for kids who are looking for advanced education,” Grey said. “For some kids it’s a road into college, and so there’s a lot of competition in between kids and also parents as well.”
The No Bully System guide includes leadership coaching sessions, teacher training and parent workshops.
After No Bully partnered with ESPN, Major League Baseball also announced its support for the Shred Hate initiative. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics all are helping to fund the initiative at schools in their cities.
“MLB wants to bring our work into their clubhouses across the nation and make that connection,” Grey said. “ESPN and MLB both recognize that if we can address the bullying and social isolation on the field, then we are empowering our students to be kinder to one another.”
And that kindness and compassion that athletes learn will help them throughout their college careers and the major leagues, Grey said.
Major league clubs “will have their sports teams working together more inclusively instead of isolating themselves or bullying one another in the locker room or on the field.”
The culture of bullying is so embedded in sports that those who make game-deciding calls are so often bullied by sports fans they’re increasingly taking themselves out of the game. The Colorado High School Activities Association said heckling has made it difficult to recruit and retain officials. In some cases, fans even threaten to physically hurt officials and other fans, the association said.
Tom Robinson, the association’s associate commissioner, has officiated for more than 40 years. He said fans, parents and coaches often think it’s their “given right” to bully an official. And young teams witness that behavior.
“Taunting is really just someone showing poor sportsmanship,” Robinson said. “It deteriorates to winning at all costs.”
Earlier this month, an assistant high school football coach threatened to kill a referee during a game West Des Moines, Iowa. The coach reportedly was restrained from attacking the official.
Many fans and coaches show respect and support for officials, and Robinson said he hasn’t let the bullies ruin his passion for officiating. But he hopes the bullying culture will change.
Earlier this year, a brawl broke out at a youth baseball game in Lakewood, Colorado. Parents and coaches began fighting with each other over a game decision that some didn’t like.
“These coaches and parents, unhappy with a baseball game involving 7-year-olds and a 13-year-old umpire, took over the field and began assaulting each other,” Lakewood police said in a post on social media.
The 13-year-old umpire at the game said he felt guilty for not being able to control the angry parents, who were bullying each other and the coaches.
“The young umpire is to be commended because no one else on the field was being an adult,” Robinson said. “He tried to solve the problem and direct them in terms of what they needed to do.”
The 13-year-old didn’t let the brawl stop him from continuing to umpire, which the teen finds rewarding, Robinson said.
The young umpire, Robinson, Barrett, Kim and Kenworthy all have one thing in common — they didn’t let bullying stop them from following their passion. But if the Shred Hate program continues, driven people like them won’t have to overcome bullying on their path to success.
As part of a national reporting project, Patch has been looking at society’s roles and responsibilities in bullying and a child’s unthinkable decision to end their own life in hopes we might offer solutions that save lives.
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