Empowering Student Athletes to Combat Bullying


March 29, 2011

Franklin, MA – On March 23-24, a team of over 30 student athlete ambassadors from across Massachusetts gathered at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) headquarters to collectively take on the problem of bullying in their schools and communities with help and guidance from Sport in Society.  The leadership training and strategic planning session was an important step in an ongoing partnership between Sport in Society and the MIAA, focused on empowering student athletes to play a central role in ending bullying and harassment across the state. The students at the training had previously submitted essays on their commitment to the issue and left Franklin with an enhanced understanding of bullying, as well as action plans to catalyze their peers and teachers to join them in eliminating bullying.

Each day brought a different group of athletes to the training. On the first day, the athletes had the opportunity to hear from former Boston Celtic Thomas “Satch” Sanders, who won eight titles with the Celtics. Satch was affected by bullying so deeply, that at 72 years old he still remembers the names of people who bullied him in the third grade. Satch said that he used the bullying as motivation on the basketball court, but warned the kids that everyone deals with bullying in a different way, and that it is up to the individual to determine the best course of action when encountering bullying.

On the second day the athletes heard from Dan Lebowitz, Executive Director of Sport in Society. Lebowitz, despite not being a former Boston Celtic, had an equally compelling and inspiring story to tell the student athletes about his upbringing in Hartford and the numerous challenges he had to overcome. Lebowitz discussed how in our culture athletes are considered role models, and this makes it important for them to be conscious of their actions at all times.

The training emphasized the power in each person to combat bullying. Said one student, “even if there’s a bunch of legislation…it can still easily go unseen,” so it is up to individuals to do something about it.

“I learned that there is a lot one person can do, not even to necessarily stop bullying, but how comforting the victim, and being there for them can make such a huge difference,” said Kaitlyn Zimmerman of Pentucket Regional High School.

This theme of encouragement came to the forefront when the students listed ways to show respect physically, verbally, and indirectly (the three primary forms of bullying). Students came up with an abundance of ideas for each category, reminding them of the plethora of ways they can positively impact the lives of many different people every day.

The students particularly enjoyed meeting athletes from other schools, and expressed the importance of having a large and diverse group. “I liked how everyone was together, and how everyone got a chance to voice their opinion,” said from Jenny Burns from Blackstone Millville Regional High School. Zimmerman said, “My favorite part was hearing everyone’s opinions, and how if they felt differently about something I could hear them explain why, and now I can use both ideas together to really make a difference.”

About the MIAA

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is an organization of 377 high schools who sponsor athletic activities in 33 sports. More than 200,000 young men and women compete annually in approximately 100,000 competitions among MIAA member schools.

About Sport in Society

Sport in Society utilizes the power and appeal of sport to create a just world by eliminating discrimination, hate and violence, while creating lasting solutions, and promoting healthy development and social responsibility. Sport in Society educates and supports emerging leaders and organizations within sport with the awareness, knowledge and skills to implement innovative and impactful solutions for social change.  As a result, we unite the global sports industry under a shared mission of social responsibility.

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    The Center for the Study of Sport in Society
    360 Huntington Avenue, 42BV
    Boston, Massachusetts 02115
    Phone: 617-373-4025
    Fax: 617-373-8574
    sportinsociety@neu.edu