And why they are so necessary to improve school climate.
In 2008, my CEO came into my office and gave me a copy of the July7, 2008, Sports Illustrated article, Jocks Against Bullies, written by Selena Roberts. You can read the article here. It highlights the power and positive influence high school athletes can have on an entire school by standing up against bullying. He challenged me to blend my athletic past with my passion for working with young people to create a youth empowerment movement addressing the issues of bullying and harassment. I readily accepted the challenge and set to work.
So often, it is the student athlete who bullies. Years later, many people are still affected by a student athlete who bullied or harassed them. I recently spoke with a teacher who shared his high school experience regarding student athletes.
He stated, “They made my life a living hell and I hated my high school experience.”
I shared with him my task to help student athletes understand the enormous amount of power they have to lead, to change, to heal or to destroy. As former student athlete, I understand the power, fear and the responsibility that comes with being on a pedestal, along with being afraid of being knocked off and the shame of being ordinary.
Personally, I believe student athletes have a greater responsibility to do the “right thing” than they could ever imagine. Why? Because they walk a higher path; someone is always watching and looking up to them because they wear a jersey. Some elementary, middle, high school student or adult is looking up to them because they represent a symbol of power and respect. For that reason, student athletes have an enormous influence on school culture. I hear it all the time from non-athletes:
“I want to be just like them; to be popular; to be in; to be accepted.”
When student athletes see and understand the power they possess, they can become the game changer to create a positive change in people and their school. It has been a mission of mine to make the student athlete aware of the awesome responsibilities that come along with wearing that jersey—being a positive role model. It’s important to target as many student athletes as possible, to challenge them to physically and emotionally get involved in their school initiatives, to lead the movement of change.
But first, we must understand the student athlete.
Just like the traditional students, many athletes are afraid; I believe the fear to fit in is so great that even the student athlete hides behind a mask, too afraid to show his or her true authentic self to peers. It takes a different kind of courage to compete athletically. But I believe courage isn’t found on the football field, baseball field or a basketball court, but in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the buses, and in the lunch area.
Understanding the mindset of many student athletes, their need for a challenge, to be competitive and to win, our team challenges them to stop being afraid and to win in the hallways of their schools by embracing those who aren’t on a pedestal; by giving value to other students, by passing out compliments, assisting in hallway high-fives, providing classroom pats on the backs, school-wide smiles, lunch room invitations, and most of all to take a risk and be willing to fail. As athletes, we are taught to get back up when we are knocked down, to keep going when others stop, to sacrifice for the team– for others. So when the student athlete realizes that being a team player isn’t just limited to a gym or stadium but to their schools, they begin to understand and see the true power and meaning of leadership.
These student athletes see how their attitudes and actions have an effect on their school, and for those who embrace this opportunity, by taking the risk of becoming their true authentic selves, they see, in the words of Marianne Williamson, that their greatest fear is not that they are inadequate but they are powerful beyond measure. It’s their light, not their darkness, that most frightens them. We are all meant to shine and the light is not just in some of us but in all of us. When student athletes allow their lights to shine, they unconsciously give others permission to do the same. When they are liberated from their own fear, their positive presence automatically liberates others. When this happens, when we stand up for others, we change the culture and improve the climate.
Today, I work with an amazing team of caring adults committed to the social and emotional well-being of all children. Our MOVE2STAND team is invited into schools and communities to empower young people to be the change they want to see. The work is one of love and humility. I am a grateful witness to the magic that takes place when kids and adults remove their masks and treat one another with compassion and respect.