Friday, August 2, 2013

Bully for you, bully for me

         This is about bullies, about bullying. I have given this a great deal of thought, mulled over this piece for a couple of months. I hope you'll understand.
         Asked to speak to an eighth-grade honors class about the Holocaust and my family's ties to it made me think about what my mother's message was in her presentations to similar groups over three decades.
         It was about prejudice, and tolerance for others, and what can happen if the world doesn't pay attention, or doesn't do something about those who dehumanize others.
         How to convey that to a group of eighth-graders? How could they relate?
         My tie-in was bullying. It is, we keep hearing, so prevalent in schools today, at the middle-school level, in high schools, maybe even in elementary schools. So maybe this is a reach, but wouldn't you say that the Germans, in the 1930s and early 1940s, were the ultimate bullies.
          Actually, the suggestion, the link, came from my daughter, who as a middle-school librarian in the Greater Knoxville (Tenn.) area does a presentation on the Holocaust each year. She feels that her students need the message on bullying, the need to convey that each person deserves respect.
          And, believe me, I can identify with bullying.
          A confession: I have been a bully.
          It's true. I have bullied family, co-workers, some people I don't know. I have done it physically, or tried to, and verbally. I tried to intimidate them, and sometimes did. I have threatened, and I've screamed, and I've hurt them, and gotten hurt.
           I'm certainly not proud of it. I was -- I am -- ashamed.
           And, I have been bullied. As the "runt" in school, I was bullied a couple of times in elementary school and, strangely perhaps, only once in junior high -- an age-group highly susceptible to bullying.
           And once, only once, in high school -- by a star athlete, a team leader, a hero of mine who one day as I came into the locker room grabbed me, slammed me against a locker and yelled right into my face to the effect of "you have a loud mouth, and I'm tired of hearing it, and if you keep it up, I'm going to do something about it."
            Several people saw it; don't think they'll remember. He won't remember doing it, and he never did it again, and he had a brilliant career in athletics and in business. He was, and is, a great guy.
          Only a couple of people know this story and don't bother asking for a name because I won't give it to you. But it happened.
           The good thing was I didn't react, I kept quiet. For one thing, I was shook up. Also, I had too much respect for the program, and for my coaches, to cause a scene. But knowing myself, knowing my temper, how often I reacted violently in situations, no telling what I would've done if it had happened again.
            To be honest, too, I was bullied at work, in the newspaper business. In composing rooms, I found some obstinate people who -- hiding behind union backing -- refused to be cooperative and literally laughed in my face. I was verbally assaulted, and grabbed physically, by one person in charge. Again, I took it ... but obviously never forgot.
             I had a couple of bosses who, in my opinion, were bullies. They intimidated with power. No physical stuff, but threats of dismissal, or they were totally dismissive of any suggestions or opinions you might offer. Their opinion was the only one that counted.
             And that's OK, to an extent. Someone has to be in charge and if the direction is solid -- and I found that most bosses' direction was -- I had no problem with it. But I also have never been very good at being told how I should think; I'd rather make up my own mind.
             I had bosses I considered extremely arrogant and one who had, in my opinion, a mean streak. I saw him fire someone right there in the middle of the newsroom. I thought that was totally inappropriate.
             Several times I have gotten after guys in my department that I thought were bullies, who pushed people around verbally or with their actions, and those instance got me in trouble with my bosses. But at least I stood up.
             Once after one of these incidents, a female co-worker saw what happened and blurted that I was a bully. I didn't disagree. I just  pointed out that we'd all been bullied for years by this guy, and I was tired of it.
              It became an office joke -- guys teased me about it -- because while I had stepped out, he apparently tearfully said "he didn't deserve that." Oh, yes, he did.
              The point is that bullying happens everywhere. How many times have you felt that you've been bullied by a store manager or a policeman or in a bank or by someone in an athletic setting?
              Happened to me last year with a football stadium manager who was adamant that the press box would be cleared 30 minutes after game's end, no matter that I couldn't get my story and statistics done and filed with the office in that time.
               If I didn't want to leave, he told me, he would get me a police escort out. I considered that a threat, and told him so. His answer, in short: tough. Trying to reason with him was a waste of time; he had to show how important he was, how he could be an enforcer.
                Yes, I sent a letter of complaint to the school district superintendent and athletic director saying that I didn't like the rule and the guy's attitude -- it was a bunch of bull(y) -- and he didn't like my attitude.
             Where is the line between bullying and being "obsessive" or "demanding" or "hard-nosed?" How do you define what's acceptable?
Bob Knight: the baddest coaching
bully (Reuters photo)
           Let's talk about coaching and bullying. A lifetime of observing coaches, dealing with them or reading/hearing about them, proved to me that there are "bullies" out there, very successful coaches who intimidate their players, their assistants and can carry it over the media and the public.
          There are people who swear by Bob Knight -- the players and/or assistants that stayed with him and were his loyal "defenders" -- and people who swear about him. To me, he's the biggest bully in athletics -- ever -- but I'm sure he has some challengers in the NFL  and NBA.
            Pat Summitt was as tough on her players as any coach I know about. But that toughness didn't carry over in her dealings with the media and the public; she handled those with grace.
              Knight didn't. Nick Saban, just to pick one current college coach, is often disdainful/condescending with the media. Gary Patterson, right here in Fort Worth, has been known to yell in media members' faces. People making millions of dollars yelling at people making maybe 2 percent of that.
              I've known coaches who had a literal hands-on approach. I don't approve. Coaching, in my opinion, is teaching, and I don't think intimidation is the proper way to teach.
             But it can work, and coaches can be highly successful, plus -- and you hear this about Knight, Saban, Patterson, Summitt -- the players that endure will tell you they were better people for having gone through the demanding process.
              Talking to a couple of coaching friends, their view is that if the intent of the coach is to motivate or teach the players, it's acceptable. If the intent is to demean the individuals, to try to destroy their self-worth or to slap them around or grab them, making it personal, that's crossing the line. That's bullying.
               Back to a personal view. For the most part, I cared about the people I worked with; I hope they understood that. But I didn't care for everyone's work ethic, or lack thereof, and I didn't care for sloppy work and certainly not for lack of effort. I did not aim to be a bully; I just wanted what was best for the place I worked.
               My message to those eighth-graders about the Germans was that the world didn't challenge them soon enough, that the bullies grew so out of control that millions died. I told those kids that if they saw kids being bullied by other kids on their campus or in public, they needed to let someone in authority know, that something could -- should -- be done about it.
               We've read too much about kids being bullied and being unable to cope, to disastrous and sad endings.
               Like I said, maybe my message was a reach. My mother could've told them how bizarre the world can be. There's no place for bullies anywhere.                                              


  1. From Dave Moormann: Nick Saban is one of the most professional coaches whom I've ever dealt with. He is also highly intelligent and if you can respond in kind, he'll respect you for it. He may give you a hard time, but he always gave me what I needed. It comes as no surprise that he's been so successful. I only wish he and Bill Belichick had experienced similar success when they coached the Cleveland Browns.

  2. From Dr. Billy Ray Stokes: Good blog Nico. This or some portion of this may find its way into some research that the Picard Center (for child development and lifelong learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) is starting to look into. Specifically, the impact of bullying as it relates to children in the juvenile justice system. (Dr. Stokes is executive director of the Picard Center)

  3. From Linda Ponder: Great article! It is so necessary for the dialogue to go on as to what forms bullying can take. My time in small West Texas schools gave me a glimpse into those coaches who took their job as a license to be bullies. Bobby Knight was my example in my college classes of someone with "anger control" issues. I'm pretty sure the 8th graders will relate.

  4. From Kirby Ramsey: WOW!!! A GREAT BLOG!!! Just about everyone has a workplace or other-place experience with this sort of behavior. It's like the saying on my coffee mug: "The more people I meet, the better I like my dog."

  5. From Raleigh Whitehead: Very interesting on bullying. I can still remember the names of those that went from Summer Grove Elem. to Oak Terrace to Woodlawn. Most didn't graduate with us even though their photos were in the senior section of the yearbook. In two cases, I saw fights break out when the bullying got to be too much. One in particular happened in P.E. when Coach Adams had left the room. The kid being bullied went toe to toe with the bully in an exchange of blows. Coach Adams came back in the room and stopped the fight. Both kids had bloodied noses and lips but the bully never picked on the kid again. One bully was in a band that played weekends at a local clubhouse. He played an electric guitar and was very good at it. I told him one day at school that I had heard him play and thought he was pretty good. He always treated me better after that. Looking back, I always kept a low profile but others weren't so lucky. I wondered what became of these people. Haven't seen any of them at any of the reunions. Really don't expect to.