|Rice is in the black shorts, pushing the player.|
I've never played men's varsity basketball at a collegiate level, so I'm not the best judge of whether this behavior is in the normal realm for this arena. But, I did go to law school and even thought I only have vague memories of first year, I'm pretty sure I saw some examples of intentional torts in the video. Also, here's what LeBron James (who knows waaaay more about basketball than I do) tweeted:
Even though it's slightly unclear from James's tweet, I'm pretty sure he's "gone whoop on" the coach and not his son. I'm learning that Twitter's brevity sometimes leads to confusion. My favorite tweet on the subject from some random guy on Twitter:
I know, right?
In the video, Rice looks like a bully with some major anger management issues. Bullying has been on my mind lately because I just read the book, Wonder in which some fifth graders bully and ostracize a classmate who has facial deformities. I know it sounds like a rip-off of Mask, but trust me the book is really well-written and powerful. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I heard about the book from the Girl, because her third grade teacher is reading the book aloud to the class. Yes, it's a YA book, but so are The Hunger Games and the Twilight series, so don't let that stop you. Thanks to Amazon we can all order young adult books for our grownup selves to read and no one has to know.
In the past, people just seemed to think that bullying was just another rite of passage. If you've seen Dazed and Confused, you know what I mean.
|Parker Posey, and the greatest widow's peak in Hollywood, likes her freshman with ketchup.|
|Ben Affleck likes his frosh whipped.|
Because I had a hazy distinction in my mind about what makes bullying different from your run-of-the-mill playground altercation, I searched the Internet for a uniform definition of bullying. It turns out that bullying is defined differently by different school districts and in different state codes. However, a definition from (of all places) the GAO was helpful in explaining the typical factors. Bullying is different from fighting because it has the following characteristics: an intent to cause harm, repetition, and an imbalance of power. I'm sure that the "intent to cause harm" is the kind of intent than can be inferred by the bully's actions. Like, if you hurl a basketball at some one's head in anger, it's hard to argue that you didn't intend to cause harm because everyone knows that it is potentially harmful to throw a basketball at some one's head. The harm doesn't have to be physical, of course. Name calling, threats, taunts, spreading rumors and ostracizing are all ways of harming some one in a non-physical way.
The element of repetition shows that there is a pattern of conduct by the bully and that it's not a one-off argument over who would win a fight between a zombie and a vampire. So, if you show up to basketball practice every day and every day your coach screams at you and pushes you and grabs your jersey, this demonstrates a pattern of bullying. This repetition is one of the things that makes bullying so damaging. When a bully establishes a pattern of conduct, the victim's anticipation and fear of the next cruelty becomes part of the psychological harm.
The last element, the imbalance of power, can be the most difficult to discern. When the victim is a player and the bully is a coach or if a the victim is an employee and the bully is the employer, the imbalance is innate. Or, when a victim is being bullied because of his race or sexual orientation or because of a handicap the imbalance of power is obvious. But, it seems like the kids who get the worst of the bullying aren't in one of those vulnerable groups, they're just normal kids who have been singled out by their peers for some other reason: Maybe these kids appear to be weak, maybe they get upset easily and the bullies like to see their reactions, maybe they're smaller or taller or fatter or skinnier than average. Then the definition of bullying kind of folds back on itself because it's the bullying itself that provides the evidence of the imbalance of power.
Another complication arises when the context of the behavior makes it unclear if the behavior is bullying or within the bounds of the activity. For instance, I know a little boy who was picked on by a couple of classmates and even though the victim was pushed, hit, kicked, and verbally insulted on a regular basis, the teacher wrote it off as "boy play." It wasn't until those bullies picked on a little girl in the class in the same manner, that they were reprimanded and suspended. Changing the victim from a boy to a girl seemed to trigger in the teacher that final element, the imbalance of power, for it to be taken seriously. The boy victim was glad that the bullies were punished, but he couldn't understand why they were punished for hurting the girl and not for hurting him.
Sports are another area in which allowances are granted for behavior that wouldn't be acceptable in real life. Bobby Knight, the former Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach was throwing chairs and screaming at players for years before he was fired for choking a player and other infractions.
|Sure, I'd be proud to autograph a picture of me|
throwing a chair. No problem!
It's also probable that Knight's winning record was a factor in Indiana putting up with his outrageous behavior. As my Twitter friend Tim Materson suggested, the same behavior becomes intolerable more quickly when the coach has a losing record.
I hate to point out the problems with anti-bullying legislation without offering any solutions, but I have to admit that I don't have a solution, either. I think that introducing books like Wonder into grade school curriculum is a good step in making kids understand what bullying is all about. Fostering empathy to prevent bullying seems like a better idea than punishing the behavior after it happens. Also, teachers need to treat combative, disruptive behavior between kids as pre-bullying. Maybe it's a case of boys being boys, or it's a one-time altercation, or maybe a mean kid has identified a good target for bullying. Once a bully has discovered a good victim, the bully can do a lot of damage before a teacher notices a pattern of behavior. I also think we should reduce the emphasis on the power imbalance between the bully and the victim. If one kid is being mean to another kid, assume that a power imbalance of some kind preceded the behavior. Kids can find all sorts of frailties in each other that we, as adults, can't see. Some of the kids adults find most delightful are exactly the kids that other kids find most annoying.
The universal outrage over Mike Rice's behavior makes me optimistic that we are moving in the right direction. This gives me hope that such overtly abusive behavior won't be tolerated. Although I'm pleased with Rutgers's decision to fire Rice, I wonder why it took so long. Given Rutgers's recent history, and specifically the Tyler Clementi case, I am surprised that the Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti did not have the good judgment to fire Mike Rice immediately after viewing the video in December. Rutgers is a very diverse school and when I went there I felt like the students were accepting of all different types of people. As an alumna, it bothers me that it is now best known as a place where your roommate will live tweet your same-sex encounter and the basketball coach screams homophobic slurs at his players.
While Rutgers cleans up its image, we can all work on being kinder to each other and making sure that kids know that bullying will not be tolerated. Do you all have any suggestions to prevent bullying?