I want to eliminate bullying…because I was a victim of it.
That may sound surprising considering my profession, but I dealt with bullying for eight years.
It started in fifth grade when I moved to Mascotte, FL, a very small town in Lake County where I call home. The first traffic light was installed in 2008. I was in an enrichment program, so I went to a different school for fifth grade and middle school. With that being said, I was the only one of my skin color in my class of about 20-30 kids. We didn't really mingle with other kids outside of recess.
That's where my story starts.
I was always picked last in soccer, but I didn't think anything of it until my own teammates started turning against me. They'd slide-tackle me, peg me with the ball. There were three kids that were considered "popular" and they made it their mission to get after me every day.
At the time, I was 5'3", 200 pounds. I was a big kid, but it's not like I was an athletic kid. I was an easy target. In fact, I haven't grown an inch since eighth grade. I hit 6'3", 270 and graduated high school the same weight, but distributed differently after working out.
Believe it or not, I was the chubby band nerd growing up. I played guitar for jazz band (and my church a little bit) and French horn for marching and concert band. Middle school is where my worst bullying experience came.
I just remember telling myself, "I can just deal with this. Don't let them see that it affects me, don't let them see the tears I shed when I go home." I wanted to be the tough guy and I thought that was my rite of passage. I was the new kid in town and I was just trying to get into any group. I thought eventually they'd let up.
When I was in sixth grade, the eighth grade jocks thought it was hilarious to tackle the band nerd running to lunch. The way school was set up, we had to basically run to lunch because if you didn't, you'd be at the end of the line and you'd have like three minutes to eat before the bell rang. There was always a hustle to lunch. And it was always strategic.
Preset locker before class. Bell rings. Run to lunch.
One day I was running down the hill and I could see the lunch room, but there were a bunch of eighth graders walking up to me. One kid was huge.
"Where are you going? Where are you going? BOOM."
From that day on, he and his friends would run into me every day body-to-body. One time I jumped over the rail and they'd chase me, catch me and throw me to the ground. My books went flying everywhere. I'd come home with dirty clothes and scratches on my arms. I'd try to hide it as much as I could, but I did break down to my mom sometimes.
I can still hear my mom's voice. "Be the bigger person, Jonotthan. Never fight back. Never lash out. You're bigger than most of these people that are messing with you and you could seriously hurt someone. You doing that will be a bigger issue than what they're doing to you."
That message helped me and it's the same one I try to provide to victims of bullying.
Don't lash out but don't shy away. Don't do anything violent or malicious, but stand your ground and talk to bullies through your actions. Let them know what they're doing isn't fazing you or affecting you. It can be tough, but if someone is messing with you, there are options how to approach it.
For example, look them dead in the eye. What are they going to do back? They'll eventually give up. It may not be right then, but they will eventually. Or you could simply say, "That's not cool."
Unfortunately, bullying will always be a part of society. You can't change that. But what you can change is how you deal with them. That's why I'm representing STOMP Out Bullying for My Cause My Cleats.
I love going to the different schools around New Jersey and talking to kids about my experiences. I'm very glad I'm in a position to give back because I could've used the reassurance when I was I younger. I could picture myself running home and telling my mom and stepdad that this football player or successful person came in and told me they were bullied and this is how they dealt with it.
But the kids I talk to are going through something 10-20 times worse than what I did because of social media. Everyone is strong behind a keyboard. Cyber bullying is to the point now where kids don't even go to school because of all these threats.
To all the kids that are currently a victim of bullying:
Don't let the bullies get to you. They're doing it for some kind of social acceptance. Don't let them get to you and don't let them see that it affects you. Once they see the weakness, that's when they keep attacking. I didn't tell anyone, I just dealt with it and that was the wrong thing to do. I know no one wants to be a snitch and you want to be accepted by your peers. But speaking out will help. Take it from the guy that used to be in your shoes.
It's time to tackle bullying.