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Please, let's remove the word ‘bullying’ from all sports pages

 

After being trounced 91-0 in football earlier this month, an unnamed father from the losing team, Western Hills High School in Texas, filed a formal complaint of bullying against the opposing coach, Tim Buchanan of Aledo High School, a team known for blow outs.

Buchanan admits that the win “wasn’t good for anybody...The score could have very easily been 150 to nothing.”

I have been in Buchanan’s sweaty sneakers. 

Also a high school coach, I’ve won games by more than 15 points–in soccer. He’s right. It’s no good for anyone. 

Like Buchanan, I could have made the score far worse. I, too, have pulled my starters early in the game like I did this Tuesday and we still scored 9 goals. 

I’ve even played with 4 less players, quietly pulling them off the pitch so not to embarrass the other team any more. And we still kept scoring.

Though definitions can vary, most agree that adolescent bullying is the deployment of superior power.

I know this drill. And I also know what bullying is and isn’t. 

By framing what happened as bullying, we learn two important lessons on the chalk board of life: Most don’t know its definition, and it’s well past time we find another word to describe this intentional form of abuse and assault.

Though definitions can vary, most agree that adolescent bullying is the deployment of superior power (can be physical, verbal, social and even economic) to intentionally harm (not just hurt) an individual (not team) over a period of time and for no good reason. 

It’s victimization without provocation, and it usually includes humiliation, threat of further abuse, isolation and some form of terror through power is wedded to fear.

These terms must be applied interpersonally (think person(s) on person), not corporately (think team). Targets are abused and assaulted on a personal level. Their very identity is impugned and often damaged.

Bullies want targets to question their value as human beings, which didn’t happen here. Reports show that the winning team didn’t talk smack. 

They didn’t demean the other team as individuals. Rather, they put on a clinic with superior skill and athleticism. 

Other teams should be learning from this coach instead of accusing him of some of the worst behavior imaginable.

The losing team (and parents) may have felt humiliation (it would have been worse if Buchanan told his team not to score), but it’s not the kind of intentional humiliation that damages on a soul level. 

Also, the winning team didn’t intend to socially marginalize the other team, another hallmark of bullying. The winning team didn’t wed power to psychological fear, anxiety and terror, the way bullies do.

Knee-jerk reactions like this reveal that to most, bullying really means any event that makes me feel bummed-out sometimes, a kind of emotional owie in a culture gifted in creating an ever-growing list of victimhood.

It’s more than time to forbid this word from appearing on the sports page. It’s time to get rid of it completely. 

With what? 

Bullying is a specific form of abuse that is fueled primarily by hate and contempt. It’s assault upon a person’s psyche, a diminishment of their core identity to the point where a person may even want to die. 

Assault is a better term. Perhaps even good old-fashioned “Hating” or a new word, “Contempting.” 

The mood in Buchanan’s post-game locker room was funeral-like. In doing what they were trained to do through superior personnel, coaching or both, it was apparent that this team didn’t feel good about what they had accomplished. 

My, I’ve been there as well. But it wasn’t because they assaulted the other team, expressing contempt and disdain.

Contrast this to how bullies feel after they attack. They do not feel a mingling of remorse and regret. Studies show that they feel electrified, glee and even pride for their “accomplishment.” They take pleasure in another’s pain.

I just gave you a simplified definition of sadism.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.