Recently the basketball team from Ooltewah High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, took a road trip to a tournament. One player was held down by two teammates while a third raped him with an object. This was their way of hazing him. Two coaches and the athletic director knew this happened and did not immediately report it to the police. That student will never have normal health again.
This incident highlights the crisis of bullying on elementary, middle and high schools across the country. The irony is that athletes can be part of the solution -- not the instigators of the problem.
The Silverdale Baptist Academy, also located in Chattanooga, realized what leaders at Ooltewah High did not -- that the culture on the basketball and football team was violent and bullying needed to be fixed. Silverdale called in famed Paul Coughlin, an expert in anti-bullying efforts and his Protectors team to show innovative ways to combine home, church, and schools in an effort to stem the violence. Coughlin travels from his Oregon home around the country trying to stop this soul-crushing practice. Fortunately there are other experts and organization trying to replace bullying with tolerance.
When students engage in physical, emotional or cyberspace bullying it can destroy forever the confidence and emotional sense of self worth of the victim. According to DoSomething.org, more than over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Approximately 160,000 students skip school every day because of bullying.
Ninety percent of fourth-through-eighth graders report being victims of bullying. Forty-one percent of girls 15-17 who are online report bullying. Ten percent of students drop out of school because of bullying. The teen suicide rate from bullying is spiking. We are allowing bullies to alter and destroy the future for kids, and 25 percent of teachers think there is nothing wrong with bullying and refuse to intervene.
In the hierarchy of most middle and high schools, it is the athletes who sit on top of the pyramid as having lives that other students admire. If a concerted effort is made to teach tolerance to these athletes, and they model that behavior, it can alter behavioral patterns on campus. I gave a speech several years ago to the CIF, California's high school athletic governing body, and urged athletic directors, coaches and athletes to be given instruction as to the impact their attitudes have on the culture of a school. If an athlete has lunch or puts their arm around a student who is being bullied for physical appearance, or is physically challenged, or less than macho, other athletes and students will quickly see that bullying as not acceptable.
Athletes can be the center of an advertising campaign on all platforms of content supply that fights bullying. The major sports leagues and colleges can contribute to the effort. Don't we owe our children the ability to attend school and not be subject to harassment? Sports can lead the way.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.